TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to take advantage of the lower traffic levels on the state's roadways during coronavirus-related closures to accelerate infrastructure projects.
The governor gave an update on the state's response to COVID-19 Tuesday evening at the Florida State Capitol, where he said he is working on an announcement for Wednesday about the state's infrastructure projects.
"It's the perfect time to accelerate work on some of these busy roads," DeSantis said.
He stopped short of issuing statewide orders for people to stay at home, despite the "safer at home" orders in place currently in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties, which he said account for about 60% of the positive cases of COVID-19 in Florida.
"The numbers are pretty stark," DeSantis said. "I think this thing was circulating during the Super Bowl. Now, Miami’s rate of cases is a lot higher than statewide."
But the governor pointed out that issuing stay-at-home orders is not always effective, as a portion of the population will disregard those instructions. He pointed out that he saw people on Florida beaches that had been closed by officials.
"That’s just the reality that we’re dealing with," DeSantis said. "No matter what you do, you’re going to have a class of folks who are going to do whatever the hell they want to."
The governor gave a word of warning, saying if people disregard the CDC's guidance to stay home, it will take longer for things to return to normal.
"Everything’s basically closed. It’s not like there’s anything to do," DeSantis said. "You can go to work, but other than that there’s just not a whole lot going on. People should just chill out and stay around the house as much as you can. That doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk or get fresh air. It just means you shouldn’t have big social gatherings."
The number of people who have been heeding guidance to stay home unless necessary has been effective, the governor said. That especially applies for people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, whom DeSantis thanked for being careful and doing "the right thing."
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 6,338 cases of COVID-19 across the state of Florida, with 77 deaths reported.
The state's top priority has been to protect and safeguard its elderly population, given the way the virus specifically impacts their health, DeSantis said. He said state leaders are focused on protecting nursing homes and assisted living facilities, both residents and staff.
Adding rapid testing will allow staff and family members to be tested before entering those facilities, DeSantis said. He pointed out that the average age of fatalities has been between 75 and 85 years old.
There are tests that can be processed in 45 minutes that are being deployed to Southeast Florida, the governor said. Those will allow hospitals to keep more of their workers on staff, since workers would not have to self-isolate every time they are exposed to the virus if a rapid test reveals they are negative for the coronavirus.
DeSantis said he anticipates each hospital system in the state will have access to about 2,000 of the rapid-testing kits.
Another priority for the state has been to expand testing sites, the governor said, which is happening at a very fast rate. The state has now processed more than 60,000 tests in the last two and a half weeks.
The governor said it's important to look at both the numbers of positive and negative cases in order to get a good idea of the data and trends of where the virus is spreading. He thanked the National Guard for working with state leaders to set up drive-thru testing sites alongside local communities and hospital systems.
The governor's goal is to reach 100,000 tests, which would be about one test for every 200 people in the state. He said that's "considered the gold standard," citing South Korea's ability to figure out where the virus was spreading after testing one in every 200 people there.
One possible treatment for the coronavirus, hydroxychloroquine, has received emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, and the governor said the state is well stocked. The drug, used to treat malaria and lupus, has been in high demand across the First Coast during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor also said the state is taking steps to ensure the availability of hospital workers, bed space and protective personal equipment. Part of that effort is continuing to delay elective procedures and bringing in contractors.
"The No. 1 logistical priority we have is getting more PPE," DeSantis said. "We’ve been fortunate to allocate a huge number of masks, almost 60,000 N95 masks to nursing homes. We think all staff needs to be wearing masks if they’re going to be around elderly residents."
The governor said the state has ordered millions of masks, including about 600,000 N95 masks to be delivered to various counties and hospital systems in the state, but that there are delays because of "a lot of tomfoolery going on" in the supply chain.
DeSantis also addressed the Holland America cruise line's pleas to the state for help with hundreds of people stranded on two ships off the Florida coast. He said the best way to deal with them is to send medical supplies to the ships, not to bring passengers into the state.
The governor is working with the White House to get supplies to the ships, he said. Bringing people into the state would use up resources needed by Floridians, he said.
"Dropping people off where we have the highest number of cases in our state would be irresponsible," DeSantis said.
The state has screened about 8,600 people at the state lines and coming in from flights to look for people coming in from coronavirus hot zones. The governor said anyone coming from those areas is required to self-isolate for 14 days.
"We are safer at home, and we will come out on other side intact," DeSantis said.