Florida's surge of COVID-19 cases shows no signs of slowing down. The state Department of Heath reported Florida set another daily record Thursday, with 10,109 cases, surpassing Saturday's record of 9,585 cases. That brings Florida's total confirmed coronavirus cases to nearly 170,000 and a death toll of 3,617 (with 67 new deaths reported Thursday).
The new record continues a marked upturn in cases that began last month, weeks after Florida started allowing businesses to reopen. Gov. Ron DeSantis has defended that decision, saying that for most of April and May, the number of new cases and the percentage of those testing positive for the virus remained low. But then, DeSantis said, he believes Floridians became complacent. "After Memorial Day, when it fell out of the news," he said, "people kind of just thought, it was over."
On Thursday, he met with Vice President Pence and other federal officials in Tampa. Speaking afterward, Pence thanked DeSantis for his leadership in combating the coronavirus and in reopening Florida's economy. "It's not an either-or choice," Pence said. "The economic comeback that's underway is a demonstration that we don't have to choose between opening America and the health of our people. We can do both."
DeSantis has resisted calls for a statewide order requiring face coverings for people in public places. As the numbers of COVID-19 cases have risen, many counties and cities have adopted rules making face coverings mandatory.
One of the most recent to do so is Jacksonville, which is set to host President Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in August.
Asked whether it will be safe for people over 65 or with underlying health conditions to attend the convention, Pence didn't answer directly. "We're excited about coming to Jacksonville," he said. "I was at a meeting not long ago when I heard about very sophisticated plans to make sure it's a safe and healthy environment."
In Tampa, DeSantis was asked if he had any "personal responsibility" for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, while other states such as New York and New Jersey were seeing cases decline. "Well, do you give credit for Florida for having a much lower fatalities per 100,000 than all the states you just praised?" DeSantis shot back. "We have fewer fatalities than some of these states have just in nursing homes."
At DeSantis' direction, Florida has rolled back part of its reopening, closing all bars in the state last week to all but takeout business. Florida took that action as an increasing number of young people became infected with the virus and several bars closed voluntarily. To avoid encouraging large crowds, local governments in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties have ordered beaches closed through the July Fourth weekend.
DeSantis said he believes these measures are reminding residents they need to be careful. "Now, people understand, this thing doesn't just go away," he said. "You can do a lot of things if you take some small precautions."
The rising numbers of coronavirus cases have raised questions about DeSantis' leadership and his close ties to Trump, whom he consulted before allowing businesses to begin reopening.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who represents parts of Miami, said, "In their rush to reopen, they've put politics ahead of public health."
Shalala said DeSantis made a mistake by not acting sooner to shut the state down. "We needed at the beginning to hit this virus with a hammer, to starve it all the way down," she said. "We didn't do the right thing in the beginning, and now we're trying to play catch-up."
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