Lamenting a “void” of COVID-19 data in Florida, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted an independent pandemic briefing in the Capitol on Thursday.
Fried reported 16,038 new cases of COVID-19 and 92 additional deaths in Florida since Wednesday. Those numbers are based on data shared by the Florida Department of Health with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House, Fried said.
The pandemic-oriented briefing marks the first since Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended daily updates in early June.
Speaking to reporters, Fried criticized DeSantis for making Floridians “jump through hoops” to access timely data.
“The only reason I can even fathom of why we’re not doing them is because they don’t want to recognize our current trajectory of our spike and where the numbers are going,” Fried said.
As Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, Fried has remained a staunch critic of DeSantis’ pandemic response since its onset.
On Thursday, she applauded the wave of local governments and corporations who are implementing various public health measures amid the resurgence of cases. Fried listed Disney, Orange County and Leon County, among others.
“These municipalities and these corporations are doing what they feel is necessary to protect themselves, their local economies and their customers,” Fried told reporters.
That said, however, Fried drew a line between encouraging vaccinations and strong-arming employees.
When asked about Leon County forcing employees to get vaccinated or face termination, Fried said such conditions of employment are not on the horizon at the Department of Agriculture.
“We are not close at all to making that sort of determination,” Fried said.
Fried, who is also vying to oust DeSantis in 2022, encouraged citizens and local leaders to do more to protect themselves.
She urged Floridians to get vaccinated, mask up and “trust the science.”
“The need for us all to do more cannot be more urgent,” Fried said.
The daily briefings come amid a dramatic spike of COVID-19 cases in Florida.
It also comes after the CDC reversed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that 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 further recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Fried noted that 66 of Florida’s 67 counties fall under the CDC recommendation.
“This surge is real,” Fried said.