Florida governor says state will enforce rules designed to prevent spread of COVID-19

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about the need for everyone to do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during a June 20 press conference. He said if everyone would follow the guidance in his recovery plan it would help.

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a Saturday press conference to talk about recent media coverage about the rising numbers of COVID-19 in Florida and to “provide some context and perspective on what that actually means.”

The state has seen record increases in recent days, including more than 4,000 new cases on Saturday. As of Sunday, Florida Department of Health reported 97,291 cases statewide compared to 63,938 on Sunday, June 7.

DeSantis explained that a new case was just a positive test. He said the person testing positive might not have any symptoms or they might have symptoms and need to isolate themselves. Others might need clinical attention.

He talked about the increased availability for testing regardless of age or if a person had symptoms. He said more were being tested now, especially young people returning to work.

He said he knew when the state began reopening its economy and increased testing, case numbers would increase, but he said he was a bit surprised about the numbers coming from those in their 20s and 30s.

He showed information of median ages in several counties from tests on June 19. The median age of those with positive tests in Pinellas was 29. As of June 21, the overall median age for COVID-19 cases in Pinellas was 41.

However, DeSantis pointed out that even with the same number of tests, the percent positive was accelerating faster, which he said was evidence of transmission, especially among the younger demographic.

He said although more cases in younger people wasn’t as big of a worry in terms of a need for medical care, it was an issue in terms of community spread and the risk for the vulnerable population.

“It’s certainly cause for concern,” he said.

DeSantis assured the public that the hospital system was fine with plenty of hospital beds and ventilators available. He said most of the increase in use of beds was due to elective surgeries, not COVID-19.

Still, the state is going to take steps to try to slow down the transmission. DeSantis said he was “doubling down” on the message about social distancing and other measures in the state’s guidance for its recovery plan.

He said the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation would be enforcing that guidance, especially the 50% capacity limit for restaurants and other public places. He said many had done a good job following the rules, but he had been hearing reports of some being “jam-packed.”

“That’s not what we’re looking to do,” he said.

He said DBPR would be enforcing the guidelines that were written to allow businesses to reopen and people to start frequenting them in a way that minimized risk.

“When those very reasonable guidelines are disobeyed, it ends up defeating some of the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

He said he had also asked the surgeon general to reissue the public health advisory with updated information including that those ages 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions continue to limit their exposure to those outside their household and avoid crowds.

He said more cases in the younger demographic increases the risk for transmission to parents and grandparents.

DeSantis said social distancing was very important.

“It will make a difference in minimizing transmission,” he said.

He said the use of facial coverings when social distancing wasn’t possible and during face-to-face business activities also was important and had always been a part of the state’s guidance.

He said if you’re sick, you should stay home. Everyone also should practice hand washing and good sanitation.

“These are very important things to help us break up the transmission,” he said, adding he wanted to make sure everyone was doing their part.

He said the state had to tackle the issue of higher positivity rates from testing. He believes if everyone would follow the guidelines, the state would be OK.

He said he would not impose statewide mandatory requirements to wear facial coverings. He also said he would not preempt locals from making decisions they think are appropriate.

Pinellas County commissioners will be considering local measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 on June 23.

“I think statewide penalties would be problematic,” he said. “I think trusting people to make good decisions works better than issuing mandates.”

He also blamed the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for its mixed message regarding face masks, saying it had said they weren’t needed in February and March, but now says they are.

He also is worried that making face masks mandatory statewide would have unequal enforcement or increased police interactions.

He repeated that the guidance in the state’s phase one and phase two orders would be better enforced going forward, especially the rules on capacity. He said when he first received calls about those breaking the rules, he had said “we’re not going to police that.”

But after seven weeks of places being open, DeSantis said he now will be asking that everyone follow the capacity guidelines.

“There’s a reason why it is being done,” he said. “I think sticking with the program is the best thing to do.”

He asked that everyone take proper precautions, such as using social distancing, and “protect those that might be a little more vulnerable.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.