Gov. Ron DeSantis says the coronavirus’ rate of spread is turning down in Florida, but the battle against the pandemic is raging on as the state is digging deep to keep resources available.
In the past week, the state has faced shortages in medication, personnel, contact tracers and testing material. Meanwhile, the Sunshine State recorded a record week of newly confirmed cases, and started Sunday with a nationwide record of 15,300 new diagnoses.
“This is the toughest part of the epidemic in our state … We’re going to get through it,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.
Despite the record numbers, DeSantis has pointed to falling positivity rates and fewer patients heading to hospitals with symptoms emblematic of COVID-19.
The Governor was speaking at Jackson Memorial Hospital, which last week reported it was running out of remdesivir, cleared through a U.S. Food and Drug Administration emergency order to treat COVID-19 symptoms before they worsen. On Saturday, the federal government distributed batches of the drug statewide to help tide over hospitals as they care for an influx of patients.
A total of 8,051 patients are currently hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 and dozens of hospitals’ ICU wings are full. Despite that, Jackson Health System President and CEO Carlos Migoya insists the South Florida medical system is successfully navigating the influx of patients.
“As the Governor said, it’s not the number of beds. We have the beds available. It’s the staff necessary to do that,” Migoya said.
Florida by the end of the week is activating contracts for 1,000 of the 3,000 medical professionals the state has held in its back pocket throughout the pandemic. DeSantis has also requested 1,500 nurses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in the state, including at Jackson Memorial.
As personnel in hospitals, nursing homes and the state’s coronavirus-specific nursing homes fall ill, the Agency for Health Care Administration is able to go to the bullpen for extra support staff.
“We don’t know that we’re going to have a demand for all 3,000, but our view is from the beginning, let’s just be prepared,” DeSantis said. “Better to be prepared and not need it than not be prepared at all.”
Like other health professionals in the Governor’s press conferences, Migoya emphasized social distancing as a way to make sure hospitals can handle the level of patients.
“We can do that for a certain period of time. We cannot do that forever,” he said. “It’s not whether we opened up too early or whether we should shut everything down. The issue right now is enforcement.”
DeSantis has repeatedly declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, and avoided questions on the matter Monday. He has also maintained that Florida won’t roll back its opening schedule, with the exception of bars.
But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez, who has made some rollbacks in the county with one of the nation’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks, threatened more possible action on the local level.
“It’s up to us to reduce the level. It’s up to us to protect each other,” Giménez said. “It’s up to us to protect the economy, because if we don’t, if we continue to have further rise in the level of contagion and more and more people going to the hospital, we have to take additional measures that will actually roll back some of the openings that we had in the past.”
The Mayor added the county needs additional contact tracers. DeSantis took heat last week for the limited supply and middling success of the state’s pandemic sleuths.
Nationwide, testing labs are also running short on the reagent used to evaluate samples.
Together with the record number of new diagnoses, Florida has conducted record-breaking amounts of testing, including 112,264 Sunday and 142,972 Saturday. DeSantis says the state’s expanded testing capabilities, which he likened to the “testing industrial complex,” has caused test returns to slow down days or weeks past the 48 days it was supposed to take to return. But reports suggest tests have always lagged beyond the two-day return window.
In addition to his emphasis on more remdesivir, the Governor said he is in talks with the federal government to secure more reagent. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday he is also lending a hand in securing remdesivir.
“Over the last 24 hours I have received reports from several #Florida hospitals concerned about their potentially critical shortage of Remdesivir,” the Senator tweeted. “I am in contact with federal officials in hopes of addressing this matter immediately.”
Despite the battle the state is facing and the national criticisms DeSantis has faced in the pandemic, he assured Floridians the health care systems would weather the wave.
“They plan for these types of eventualities, and they’re keeping their overall senses very stable, even as COVID has represented an increasing part of the census,” DeSantis said.