Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried is continuing her crusade against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ COVID-19 response.
On Wednesday, Fried — Florida’s sole statewide elected Democrat and a gubernatorial contender — encouraged citizens and local leaders to do more to protect themselves in what she described as the “first of regular COVID-19 updates” in the state.
Speaking at the state Capitol, Fried urged Floridians to get vaccinated, mask up and “trust the science.” Doing so, she asserted, will protect residents as case numbers skyrocket across the state.
“While some may want to stick their head in the sand and pretend that this pandemic is over or even worse, that this is just a seasonal virus that will go away. We are very much still in the middle of a major public health crisis in our state, in our nation, and in the global community,” Fried told reporters inside the Cabinet Room.
Indeed, COVID-19 rates are surging among unvaccinated populations. With a recent daily average of roughly 10,452 cases, Florida is third for most cases behind Louisiana and Arkansas, according to The New York Times.
Amid the spike, Fried blasted DeSantis for suspending the state’s daily COVID-19 report in early June.
What’s more, she criticized him for sending a mixed message. In consultation with the Centers for Disease Control, Fried vowed to provide public health updates to fill the “void” of health data in Florida.
“The People of Florida need and deserve access to regular, timely updates as related to the ongoing pandemic, not secret meetings or sporadic information sharing,” Fried said, referencing a closed-door COVID-19 meeting DeSantis held Monday.
Fried further blasted DeSantis, saying he “handcuffed” local governments by preempting public health mandates and fines.
When asked what public measures should remain on the table, she discouraged lockdowns but stopped notably short of promoting other restrictive measures.
An early proponent of a statewide mask mandate, Fried focused Wednesday primarily on the importance of “personal responsibility.”
“We need people to be smart,” Fried said.
Wednesday’s press appearance comes after the CDC reversed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging.
Citing new information about the ability of the more contagious delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The updated guidance swiftly became political fodder in Florida.
While Fried encouraged Floridians to trust the CDC as they learn more about the virus and its variants, DeSantis dug his heels, saying the guidance is driven by “political science” rather than medical science.
The dueling messages underscore the political tug-of-war over the public health response.
DeSanits, Fried charged, could and should do more to promote the vaccination effort.
“He could have gotten his vaccine in public to show support behind them, and he chose not to,” said Fried, who invited the press in April to attend her vaccination appointment.
For his part, DeSantis has indeed stressed the importance of vaccinations. At a press conference last week, he promoted the vaccine effort, noting that the chances of a fully vaccinated person getting seriously ill or dying is “effectively zero.”
“These vaccines are saving lives,” DeSantis continued. “They are reducing mortality.”
Notably, Floridians are split along party lines on the question of whether the vaccine for COVID-19 is as safe and effective as public health officials say, according to a recent University of South Florida survey.
According to data released from the Florida Department of Health, 59% of the state’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
While those 65 and older are 84% vaccinated, only 38% of Floridians age 20-29 are vaccinated. Those ages 30 to 39, meanwhile, are 46% vaccinated.