Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force are assuring Floridians that the federal government is working with Gov. Ron DeSantis to answer the state’s needs as it enters a second month of growing infections.
The briefing, the latest as the task force hit the road this week to visit states afflicted by the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic, came as state health officials confirmed more than 10,000 new cases between morning reports for the first time Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence and the team also visited Arizona and Texas this week, but spoke from Tampa General Hospital alongside DeSantis Thursday.
“Our job right now is to make sure you, Governor, and the people of Florida, know that at President Trump’s direction, we’re going to make sure you have what you need, when you need it and then some,” Pence said. “We’re going to make sure that Florida has the resources, the medicines, the testing and the supplies to meet this moment.”
Federal Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said federal officials saw a rise in the percent positivity rate beginning at the end of May statewide and in the Tampa area.
“This virus came to Tampa and spread through Tampa sometime along the end of May, and then spread through the asymptomatic groups … and constantly spread to this point where you have this number of cases today,” Birx said.
South Florida has always been the largest hot spot, but the Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville areas all show signs of outbreaks with daily new cases sometimes topping 1,000 in those individual counties.
The pressure is on for Florida with the Republican National Convention scheduled in Jacksonville less than two months from now. With health officials’ guidance that people avoid the Three Cs — closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings — seemingly impossible in a convention hall, Pence insisted the party would host a safe convention.
In states where COVID-19 is on the rise again, the majority of new positive cases have come from Americans younger than 40. DeSantis has spent the last two weeks encouraging young Floridians to follow social distancing, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar repeated that message.
“You know the risks to you are quite low, but you’re protecting vulnerable people in your household,” Azar said. “You’re also protecting the stranger standing next to you in the grocery store line, and you don’t know if that person is vulnerable, and you don’t want that on your conscience.”
Birx and the team touted the federal response, including a new strategy to test pools of people, such as dorm halls with one or a handful of tests and to test people again individually if a pool returns positive. Food and Drug Administration Director Stephen Hahn said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects of a quickly-produced COVID-19 vaccine.
“We will not cut corners in our assessment to the vaccine,” Hahn said. “Our solemn promise to the American people is that we will look at the data associated with the vaccine and we will make a decision about the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine using our typical high standards.”
The event was hosted by TGH in partnership with the University of South Florida.
Before the press conference, the Vice President, joined by Birx and Azar, participated in a roundtable discussion with leadership at Tampa General and USF.
“Tampa General, in partnership with USF, was honored to host our national and state leaders for a roundtable on COVID-19 and how the global pandemic is impacting our region,” TGH president and CEO John Couris said.
“We discussed our methods to provide the highest quality care for our patients and focused on solutions that would enable us to continue our efforts to combat the coronavirus. Most importantly, we need the cooperation of Florida residents. Wear a mask and practice social distancing to keep yourself and others safe.”