- Christina Pushaw
- Democratic media consultant
- Executive Office of the Governor
- Florida Hospital Association
- Governor's press secretary
- hospital admissions
- Kevin Kate
- Nikki Fried
- Ron DeSantis
- summer surge
- u s department of health and human services
- U.S. centers for disease control and prevention
Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ press secretary on Sunday accused his political rival, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, of posting a lie about how badly the new COVID-19 crisis is hitting Florida hospitals, drawing heated responses Monday, including a counter charge that press secretary Christina Pushaw lied.
It’s a battle largely being played out on Twitter.
It appears to come down to the two sides — the Governor’s press secretary versus Fried and her media consultant — relying on two different sources of data, resulting in two different numbers cited for the same purpose.
Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial election campaign, and Kevin Cate, a Democratic political consultant, offered data to back up the assertion Fried made on Sunday that it was the worst day yet for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida.
Cate expressed outrage Monday that the Governor’s official press secretary had called a Florida Cabinet member a liar. Cate also implied that Pushaw’s response appeared to continue what he saw as an Executive Office of the Governor effort to downplay the current COVID-19 surge even as Florida hospitals fill anew with virus patients.
“Call me old fashioned, but it’s a pretty big deal when the Governor’s office spokesperson calls another statewide official a liar — especially about easily verifiable hospitalization numbers … in the middle of a pandemic!!” Cate wrote in an email to Florida journalists.
In a followup email, Cate, who consults for Fried’s gubernatorial campaign, accused DeSantis of “having his spokespeople lie.”
Pushaw, who became DeSantis’ press secretary in May, and who has since been almost continuously engaged in tweet-storm fights with Democrats, journalists, and other DeSantis critics, replied Monday that her tweet expressed a problem with Fried’s statement — not with Fried herself.
She also defended her position with data showing Sunday was not Florida’s worst day yet for COVID hospitalizations.
“I did not call anyone a ‘liar,’ because I always try to take aim (at) the statement, not the individual,” Pushaw responded in an email to Florida Politics. “But it is true that Fried did not offer an accurate picture of the state’s response to COVID-19 at her briefing, and this is a theme with her. There is some confusion over a comparison to July 23, 2020.”
It all began Sunday when Fried distributed, via Twitter, her latest video statement on the summer surge of COVID-19. The video was accompanied by a Fried tweet summarizing, “Florida hospitals are being overwhelmed by COVID admissions, almost entirely unvaccinated individuals, including young and middle age Floridians. It’s worse than the worst last year.”
Pushaw’s Twitter reply: “This is a lie. The worst day for COVID hospitalizations was last year, July 22, 2020 — before vaccines were available. Now with most adults in Florida vaccinated, we aren’t ‘worse off’ than we were last year, unless @NikkiFried is saying the vaccines don’t work? Irresponsible.”
Fried said in a later tweet that she based her assertion on data provided by the Florida Hospital Association that said there were 10,207 current hospital admissions due to COVID-19 in Florida on Sunday, and that the previous state high had been 10,179 admissions, on July 23, 2020.
“We reported this yesterday and the Governor’s office called me a liar. Ron DeSantis is the problem,” Fried tweeted Monday morning.
Cate went further in his email to Florida Politics.
“It’s just such a shocking, dangerous, irresponsible verifiably false accusation from the Governor’s Office,” Cate wrote. “They have the accurate data. They are the ones withholding it. DeSantis knows Nikki is telling the truth and trying to save lives, jobs, and our way of life. But instead of changing course and following Nikki’s lead, he’s having his spokespeople lie and hide because the data is inconvenient to his political aspirations.”
Pushaw’s response said those accusations are false, and that no one in the administration is offering inaccurate data or trying to hide anything.
“It is surprising and disappointing that a prominent elected official like Commissioner Fried would be spreading innuendo that unfairly undermines trust in Florida’s public health authorities during a pandemic,” she wrote in her reply to Florida Politics.
She explained, “This is a comparison of data from two different sources, and other sources report a different peak in July 2020.”
She said the Governor’s Office is relying on official data posted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which show more than 11,000 Florida hospital inpatient beds being used for COVID-19 patients during mid-July in 2020 — clearly more than the 10,207 Fried cited for Sunday.