Faced with a record day of COVID-19 cases, five-hour waits at mass testing sites and growing public worry, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis for not doing more to address the new surge of COVID-19.
Demings said there are shortages of tests, too few state-supported testing sites and a lack of leadership at the state level as his county and other local governments around the state are “being overwhelmed” trying to respond. He also blasted DeSantis for taking away local government ability to make COVID-19 policies.
“Our residents — all Florida residents — should be outraged. They should ask the question: Now, where is our state? Where is our Governor? Where is Ron DeSantis now?” Demings said. “When was the last time you saw the Governor do a press briefing regarding COVID-19?”
The Governor’s Office responded by accusing Demings of “theater” and noting that New York — which has strict mask mandates and permits local vaccination mandates — has more cases than Florida. As of the most recent CDC data, though, New York is the only state with more cases than Florida.
Statewide, Florida has seen an explosion of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 169,000 new cases confirmed in the seven days through Sunday. That is the most ever for a single week in the Sunshine State.
Demings made his comments as he and Dr. Raul Pino, Orange County’s health officer from the Florida Department of Health, briefed media on how quickly the latest COVID-19 outbreak has hit.
“Local governments have been left to figure it out and respond on our own. We are doing the best that we can do to take care of our residents during this surge, just as we have been doing throughout this pandemic,” Demings said.
“The numbers are staggering today,” Demings said.
On Monday, Orange County confirmed more than 2,500 new cases, the most ever for a single day, Pino said. The day before, there were more than 1,600 new cases, he said.
The county’s rolling, 14-day average for the share of positive test results hit 14.6%, compared to a rate of 3.8% just two weeks ago.
Orange County opened a second mass testing site on Monday and both sites now are overwhelmed. A third site will be opened later this week.
Pino said Orange County could open five sites and they all would have two-hour waits.
Both Demings and Pino offered encouraging news, noting that hospitals are not being swamped with admissions as they were in past surges. Demings said that’s due in part to the milder symptoms caused by the omicron variant and in part because so many people have been vaccinated, with 74% of eligible residents having received at least one dose.
Demings urged people to get vaccinated and to get tested. Pino pushed people who experience symptoms to self-isolate until tests can show they do not have COVID-19.
Demings also encouraged people to wear masks, wash hands frequently and social distance.
He said Central Florida employers are seeing worker shortages. Demings insisted Orange County is in better position now, however, because of vaccinations.
“Unfortunately, we see the politicization of the virus, the pandemic, that has resulted in less than an efficient way to respond to the pandemic,” Demings said. “So here we are trying to do the best we can today under a difficult environment.”