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Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democrat leaders call for improved COVID-19 response

U.S. Reps. call for improved testing, tracing and state-wide mask order.

Coronavirus infections are trending downward in Florida, but there’s still plenty of work to do.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch called for Florida to expand its testing and contact tracing and to impose a statewide mask order during a Tuesday conference call.

The trio of U.S. Representatives were joined by Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease physician and professor at Florida International University, and Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Barack Obama administration.

Mucarsel-Powell, a member of the Congressional Coronavirus Task Force, said Florida became an international hot spot because of an ill-advised rush to reopen its economy. Even while the numbers are largely stabilizing, Mucarsel-Powell said Florida needs to govern the pandemic better.

“We’re in this mess because too many of our state leaders have followed President Trump’s playbook putting Big Business and the well connected ahead of everyday people,” she said. 

“Look at why they’re holding people hostage: For corporate liability shields. They want to slash unemployment benefits. They don’t want to fund more testing and tracing. And they want to reopen schools before it’s safe. And while all this is happening, they’re still suing to get rid of the [Affordable Care Act].”

Slavitt said the data indicates cases are flattening out, but he warned that if action isn’t taken to continue the positive momentum, it could be like a famous Robert Frost poem were two roads diverged.

One path, he said, is to follow what places like New York and New Jersey have done in testing and tracing to reverse the curve of infection over time. And the other, he said, is to slip back in the other direction.

“Unless the virus has no place to go, it will keep going,” he said. “We understand how the virus works. When people are breathing near each other or breathe in a room and leave and someone else comes in. If you don’t do that, the virus dies. We are too kind to this virus. We are too good a host to this virus. We let it live.”

Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, said President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis have engaged in “serial neglect and incompetence” regarding the response to coronavirus. Some of her constituents have indicated it can take as many as eight or nine days for a test result to return.

That’s woefully inadequate, she said, and does nothing to ultimately arrest the spread of the virus.

“The dereliction of duty list is long and ultimately deadly,” she said. “Contact tracing, isolation protocols, quick response policies on shutting down sectors of our economy, hazard pay. They’re all inconsistent, non-existent, faltering or failing. At this very moment, we find ourselves in coronavirus response negotiations with a President who wants to underfund testing, destabilize Social Security and Medicare, bankrupt local governments and of course, raid FEMA funds in the middle of what is predicted to be the most volatile hurricane season on record.”

Moments later, Wasserman Schultz reminded people on the call that there is a fitting precedent. America and the world responded to a similar epidemic a century ago, and similar circumstances ensued.

“One of the main lessons we learned from the 1918 pandemic was that U.S. government leaders, health officials and even the press back then intentionally downplayed or misled the public on the severity of that horrific health threat,” she said. “Surely there were exceptions and the fact that they were gearing up for or engaged in World War I tremendously influenced the outright censorship of the viral threat the world faced back then. But America is not facing any such global war today. We have a free press. And yet again the lack of public trust caused by neglect and purposeful misstatements is eroding our ability to slay or control this viral monster before us.”

Deutch said the solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic are not particularly exotic. People are listening to health experts, which is why the numbers are going down. But unless there’s improvement in leadership at the local and national level, all the momentum gained is at risk.

“It’s a tragic outcome and it’s getting worse,” Deutch said about the 160,000 Americans dead due to COVID-19. “We’ve got to come up with a better plan here in Florida. We’ve got to try to address the squandered opportunities we’ve had to trace and isolate cases to prevent future outbreaks. And I would try to encourage people to think about it this way: There are people around the country who have found their new normal. They’ve found a way to reopen safely in communities where transmission is down to manageable levels. But that’s not the case here.”

Written By

Spencer Fordin grew up in Port Washington, N.Y. and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Before working for FloridaPolitics.com, he spent 16 seasons with MLB.com and nearly three years as a general assignment reporter in the Cayman Islands. You can reach Spencer at SpencerFordin@gmail.com.

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