Top Senate Democrat presses for more COVID-19 data and transparency
Sen. Aubrey Gibson and her caucus has railed Gov. Ron DeSantis throughout the pandemic for the state's public health response.

Sen. Audrey Gibson all but questioned the adequacy and quality of the state's information.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson is calling for the state to release more COVID-19 data in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday.

Florida has seen a skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases since the start of June, including nearly 10,000 more reported Wednesday morning. And along with the rising cases has come rising complaints that the state hasn’t been as transparent as it could be.

The letter is just the latest punch Democrats have thrown at the Governor throughout the pandemic, or even this week.

Gibson, the outgoing Democratic Leader, said there is now a spotlight on “the adequacy and quality of public health information forthcoming from (the DeSantis) administration.”

On behalf of her caucus and “the people of Florida,” she requested information on ICU capacity, daily hospital admissions, hospital staffing and nursing home preparedness.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports the state’s ICU capacity, broken down by county and by state. But the report makes no distinction for COVID-19 ICUs and COVID-19-free ICUs.

Gibson also asked what ability individual counties have to expand their ICU capacities. Florida has more than 20,000 hospital beds stockpiled, and Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Director Jared Moskowitz says regular hospital beds can be converted into ICU beds.

But hospitals must take extra precautions to protect against the spread of the virus, straining hospital resources and personnel. In light of DeSantis’ request to the federal government for 100 medical personnel, Gibson questioned whether the state has enough trained professionals and personal protective equipment to handle the surging infections.

The Department of Health (DOH) and DEM release a daily report of cases, hospital admissions and fatalities. But that is a running total and only reports confirmed cases and anyone hospitalized for COVID-19 for any reason, even if they are asymptomatic.

Gibson also inquired about the state’s contact tracing policy, which has come under fire as contact tracers have struggled to reach known positives. During DeSantis’ press conference Tuesday, the Governor insisted counties could hire their own contact tracers. But Wednesday morning, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, a fellow Republican, disputed that claim on national television after remaining silent the day before.

And with DeSantis touting his policies as the nation’s best for elderly individuals, the Senate Democratic Leader sought more information on nursing homes and measures taken to protect residents and staff in transitional nursing homes and facilities that are equipped to handle both COVID-19 positive and negative residents.

Gibson also criticized the state’s reopening strategy.

“Despite the benchmark criteria established by the CDC for re-opening phases, including a downward trajectory in cases for at least 14 days, it appears these milestones have been repeatedly ignored in the rush to reopen Florida, jeopardizing not only the health of our citizens, but the ability of our economy to safely reopen,” she wrote.

In Wednesday morning tweets, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone statewide-elected Democrat, hit DeSantis for failed leadership, and also targeted his reopening plan.

“Florida reopened too soon … on the Governor’s insistence that we had beaten COVID-19,” she said. “We have not, and we are entering incredibly dangerous territory with no leadership.”

That followed a press conference Tuesday in which Senate Democrats — helmed by Gibson’s anticipated successor, Sen. Gary Farmer — warned of a looming COVID-19 storm in the absence of leadership from the Governor.

“You’ve got to get your effing head out of the sand,” said Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz.

During that press conference, Lantana Democratic Sen. Lori Berman questioned where Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who heads DOH, has been. Rivkees made several public appearances with DeSantis early in the pandemic, but has not joined him for a press conference in recent months.

Gibson also forwarded her letter to the Surgeon General, and included a question about whether his department would require businesses to notify employees and customers if a worker tests positive.

She left a closing rebuttal at the conclusion of the message:

“Restarting Florida’s economy and restoring the public’s confidence to reengage in that economy requires more than just issuing a phased-in ‘all clear’ signal. The public has a right to know the real-time status of the pandemic in Florida, as well as the actual real-time ability of our health care facilities to respond to the surging infection rate.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • Concerned in Florida

    July 10, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Transparency? Ha.

    Funny stuff in Bay County, Fl and I suspect in many counties…..

    Many counties submitted vacation rental plans and had them approved in May.

    Then, many counties apparently had their plans amended and approved in June (with little fanfare / no reporting on this).

    But, doesn’t matter, because right now, for many of the county plans, states like Georgia, South Carolina, even Florida, have now met the metrics outlined for “no rentals”. Ex? Bay County, FL – according to their plan (which used to name specific states – almost all northern states, like NY, NJ, etc., but now names no states), no rentals should be accepted from guests in states with more than 750 cases per 100k, OR 500 active cases per 100k. GA, SC and FL all meet this metric (AL will, too within days based on their current increasing cases per day).

    Yet…no one is mentioning this to anyone. In fact, when asked, Bay County officials advised they while property managers and STR owners have “an obligation to comply”, they (Bay County) have no intention of communicating/messaging this information to anyone. It’s up to managers/owners to figure it out themselves.

    It was all smoke and mirrors. So why did Beshears make such a big deal of requiring counties like Clay and Wakulla to amend their plans when they submitted? Why was DeSantis so adamant, “”If you tell me you’re going to rent them out to people from New York City, I’m probably not going to approve that, OK?” – Was he seriously meaning just NYC? Didn’t really care about hotspots, after all?

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