Apr 16, 2020

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Briefing April 16

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis April 2
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsFlorida Governor Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Briefing April 16

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a coronavirus press conference on April 16. Full transcript here.

 

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Ron DeSantis: (00:00)
People in the state of Florida. A lot of these tests come from our drive through testing sites, which have been very successful, and some, like our Broward site, has been a model for other national guards to use throughout the country, but those sites can’t necessarily serve everybody. Not everyone has access to a car, may not have the ability to travel all the way to one of those drive through sites, and so we need to be able to reach in to communities, particularly underserved communities, to provide access to testing. We worked with a UF Shands to develop a program for some neighborhoods in Jacksonville that were underserved, and I’ve asked Director Moskowitz to work with local communities to see where these good locations would be. These two locations were some, that with local input we felt would make a real impact. So tomorrow I’ll go and announce and then Saturday they will be open for testing.

Ron DeSantis: (00:56)
So you’ll have 60 National Guardsmen, along with the Department of Health staff and the Broward Sheriff’s office, they’ll be operating the two sites. Each will start doing 200 tests a day, and the process is, anybody that is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can walk up to the site to receive a test, or call to setup an appointment to be tested. Appointments can be made by calling (954)412-7300. Each client will be provided a bag of resources upon exiting the site, DOH and Broward will call each person to advise them of their test results. If a person tests positive, DOH and Broward is partnering with the federally qualified health centers for followup. Telehealth, we think that this is an important way to expand testing into different segments of this society and that we hope it will be successful and we hope that the response is good.

Ron DeSantis: (01:52)
Yesterday I announced that Department of Management Services Secretary with me to today, Jonathan Satter, was going to take over the COVID-19 response regarding unemployment compensation at the Department of Economic Opportunity today. Along with Secretary Satter, I’d like to provide additional update on where we stand with the system and how we’re moving forward to get people their money as quickly as possible. While there was certain things that have been done with the Pega website to allow people to submit their information more quickly, ultimately we need to get people paid. And so, I’ve directed Secretary Satter, that’s got to be the number one priority. So far DO has made 121,102 payments to Floridians in reemployment assistance, totaling almost $50 million. This includes 33,623 individual Floridians who applied for reemployment of benefits after this economic upheaval in the middle of March.

Ron DeSantis: (02:53)
This week DO mailed 23,801 checks for $600 from the federal money under the Cares Act. So those are paper checks that are going out, and the reason why is that we want it to be submitted, or received, as quickly as possible. So Floridians who received their $600 check will receive their state benefits for reemployment assistance via either direct deposit or prepaid debit card based on the individual applicants preferences. And so, while we’ve made some progress in the recent days, it’s not nearly enough. We have an unprecedented amount of claims and we’ve got to work through them. One of the things that was slowing up the claims, is there’s a provision in law, which says you have to re-certify every two weeks that you’re unemployed. Well, if the system is suffering under too much stress, why would we want people to have to go on and re-certify that, we know what the economy’s doing right now.

Ron DeSantis: (03:51)
So I signed an executive order today, and even though I had told them to wave any needless bureaucratic rules, I had to today sign an executive order to suspend the need for people to return to the CONNECT system, to re-certify their unemployment status. We understand what’s going on with the economy now, we hope it’s short term, but clearly this is not something that if you just look hard enough, you’re all of a sudden going to find a new job. And so, I understand that, that’s why we’re waiving this. And I think that from the folks, the technicians have told me, that will relieve some stress on the system, so some of the Pega applications could be run through COONECT, and we need to do as good as we can on that. But certainly this is not a time to get bogged down in bureaucracy and get bogged down in red tape. So this will hopefully free up some more space to be able to move more claims through. It’s not a silver bullet, there’s a bunch of moving pieces here, but I do think that it will help.

Ron DeSantis: (04:53)
And Secretary Satter will say a few words here in a minute. Oh, but I’ve told him, “Take whatever action you need to speed this process along.” We want to make sure that people are getting their compensation for unemployment, it’s a top priority of the state of Florida. So he understands those marching orders and he’s working hard with the staff there. And they’re working around the clock, I mean we’re having this thing go 24 seven, and I think we need to do that given the circumstances. If you look around the state of Florida, I’ve been talking with a number of folks in various parts of the state, with the hospitals who are working there. And I think the numbers have been pretty stable for Florida. Statewide, we’ve got about 43% of the beds in Florida are available, ICU beds just under 40%. And in Miami-Dade, which has by far the most cases, you’ve got about 42% of the hospital beds available and 40% of the adult ICU beds available.

Ron DeSantis: (05:54)
Most of them feel that they’ve seen this kind of plateau, in terms of what’s going on in the hospitals. Most of them feel confident that they’re going to be able to meet the needs going forward. And so, we’re looking at things like, can we start having some of these “elective surgeries,” resume. There were some things in the president’s guidance that I just got, that he’s going to be announcing at 6:00, about that. But it does raise the larger question of, “What does phase two look like here in the state of Florida?” We had a great call with the president and all the governors a couple of hours ago talking about how CDC envisions this, what their recommendations would be. And so we’re internalizing that, I obviously have a task force that we’ve created, we’re going to have the first meeting tomorrow, and we need to be ready to get back to work.

Ron DeSantis: (06:46)
There’s going to be a lot that goes into this, I mean you’re talking about different segments of the economy, different measures for protection, but I think that we’re going to be able to come up with a thoughtful approach that will allow folks to get back to work and hopefully mitigate some of the economic damage that’s been done. So that will be something we’re going to be working on around the clock for the next a few days and hopefully we’ll have a plan very soon on that. For the latest updates on our effort to fight COVID-19 please text, “FL COVID-19,” to 888777. Again, “FL COVID-19,” to 888777. I want to let Secondary Satter come up and say a few words, and we’ll both be ready to take some questions. John.

John Satter: (07:33)
Thank you governor. About 24 hours ago, the governor called me maybe 26 hours ago, and asked me to be some boots on the ground and help with the unemployment issues at the Department of Economic Opportunity. The mandate was singular focus, and that is to get eligible Floridians paid their unemployment benefits. So the governor has given us authority to rally all state resources, we have thousands of state employees assisting in the effort, processing the paper applications that have arrived. We’re constantly making software upgrades, technology as you know, is a complicated enterprise, but we’re making those efforts every day. And most importantly, the governor’s allowed us to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape that government is so frequently a part of, and I applaud the executive order that you’ve issued today, and I want to thank you for helping us streamline the process to get Floridians paid.

Ron DeSantis: (08:31)
Great. All right.

Speaker 3: (08:36)
Yeah, can [inaudible 00:08:36].

Ron DeSantis: (08:44)
John may have the exact number, I can say it’s an unprecedented amount of claims, and his charge is to process those as quickly as possible. Prior to this, if you applied in January, I mean this is a cumbersome process, it would take several weeks. But when the unemployment rate is 3%, it’s a little bit different than what we have now. So I’ve told him, “All roadblocks remove, let’s get it done.” Obviously this interface is with federal databases, when you’re talking about social security number, all this other stuff, and so that’s just things that have to be worked through. But my charge to him is, “Work through it and do it 24/7 so that we can get the checks out.”

Speaker 4: (09:25)
Governor, [inaudible 00:09:26].

Ron DeSantis: (09:33)
Jared is preparing different plans for hurricanes, and we’re… obviously we hope that we get spared, but we’re preparing that we don’t, and so he’s working on all kinds of contingency arrangements. It will be an issue if this, depending on how this virus, how prevalent it is during hurricane season, and so we’ll have to be ready for it.

Speaker 5: (09:55)
Governor, [inaudible 00:09:56].

Ron DeSantis: (10:10)
Well look, if you’re getting 100 claims a day like we were, that stuff can be worked through. I mean they had a staff, actually I remember Lawson coming and telling me they had too many people because there just weren’t a lot of jobless things being filed. This is an emergency situation. I hope that this is not a situation that is enduring for a long time. I think from the president on down, people want to get over this hump, get people back to work, it’s not going to be 100% like it was prior, but we’ve got to get on that road to recovery, and so hopefully we’ll be able to.

Ron DeSantis: (10:44)
But with my emergency authority, I’ve waived pretty much everything I could wave. This one, I didn’t think I needed to do an executive order for it because the labor department has said this can be waived, the agency didn’t do it, so I had to force their hand to do it. And I think that, that’ll make things move a little bit smoother, so there’s a whole bunch of different things we’ve done. Normally before you can even apply, there’s a time period, so we waived that. So at least people were able to apply immediately. But yeah, I mean obviously those rules were put in, in a different circumstance than right now. Yes sir?

Speaker 6: (11:19)
Governor, [inaudible 00:11:20].

Ron DeSantis: (11:32)
I mean, you could talk to the legislator about it. I mean, I don’t know that it’s a legislative fix. I mean, I think the system, they’re working through the system, I think it’s more of a technical, there’s more technical issues that need to be worked through. If those technical issues were solved then you’d be able to move it quicker, and they actually have done some things which I really appreciate and hopefully they can do more. I’m not sure what legislating, I mean look, we need to do this now. I mean, what are you going to do? Come up and debate and then pass a bill that’s effective in July? This is something that he has the charge, John has the charge of 24/7, right now time is of the essence to be able to do this, and I’ve repeated that time and time again and that’s the way we’re approaching it.

Speaker 7: (12:15)
Governor, [inaudible 00:12:16].

Ron DeSantis: (12:31)
This is for the federal or the state?

Speaker 7: (12:33)
The state.

Ron DeSantis: (12:33)
The 50 million?

Speaker 7: (12:35)
[inaudible 00:12:35] my question [inaudible 00:12:38].

Ron DeSantis: (12:58)
We’re looking at it, we are looking to do more money for it as well, and that’s something that we’re looking at. And I’m also looking at how we can deploy some of the federal Cares Act money for the economic recovery. There’s, I think anything COVID related is fine. So, what can we do to leverage that, to be able to help deal with the situation that we find ourselves in. But I’m definitely looking forward to do more of small business, and I know with the federal money running out for the PPP, I think they got to go back in and do that. I mean, that was a lot of money, but at the same time for the number of small businesses that were affected, I mean we have millions and millions and millions of small businesses around the country. And you look at it, I mean law firms were getting the money, they’re working from home. I mean, it really should have been more geared towards kind of the bread and butter, small businesses, the businesses that weren’t able to operate due to some of the restrictions.

Speaker 8: (13:52)
Governor, [inaudible 00:13:54], what you’re [inaudible 00:14:00].

Ron DeSantis: (14:06)
I’m not sure, they’re looking into it and we’ll hear from Secretary Inch about it, so I’m just not sure what went on there. But I’ve also looked at, you’ve seen releases around the state. There was the one terrible case in West Central Florida where this guy committed a murder after he was released. Very, very dangerous and we’ve got to always put the public safety first.

Speaker 9: (14:31)
Well last time [inaudible 00:14:31].

Ron DeSantis: (14:38)
Do you have the numbers?

John Satter: (14:39)
I think there are a number of claims that are outstanding, and as a result of the action that the governor took today, we’ll be able to expedite processing, and I think it’s in the neighborhood of 80,000+.

Speaker 9: (14:51)
Okay.

Ron DeSantis: (14:51)
There’s a lot more that they’re trying to process than just 80,000. I mean that’s just a-

John Satter: (14:55)
That’s just a backlog that was required for people to come back and re-certify. So the governor’s action today is going to get money out in the street almost immediately. We have to do a couple of technical changes, but money’s coming out very quickly due to the governor’s action.

Speaker 10: (15:10)
Governor, [inaudible 00:15:10] does it make sense to wait-

Ron DeSantis: (15:17)
Yeah, we’re waiting on the budget just because we need to see what we’re looking at, obviously from the health perspective we watch the numbers every day. Clearly, if you remember, if you go back a month, what people were saying was that all our hospitals would be broken, that there would be tens of thousands of fatalities and everything. We’ve avoided that, and part of that is because people, Florida did a great job. We’ve got great doctors, nurses, had a good plan. We work very quickly and early on these nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and I think we’ve done a better job than some other states. There’s a lot that goes into that. We’re doing more because you’ve got to figure out how to stop an asymptomatic staff member. But in all the discussions I have with these hospitals, that’s the concern. They feel good about this being more stable in the community, but if you have one outbreak in an assisted living facility or nursing home, it’s a big problem. So they’re working on deploying testing.

Ron DeSantis: (16:14)
Obviously we have teams, Department of Health, National Guard, but that really I think is going to be the number one thing to be able to mitigate the damage from this virus just given how susceptible those folks are. So you’ve got to work through that and be confident that we’re going in a good direction, and then we’ve got to see what the economic prognosis looks like. I mean, I get numbers about how much in the hole we’ll be for the remainder of this fiscal year. And the numbers I’ve received are not anything that would cause us to have to redo the current fiscal year budget. And then even next year, given the amount of money that we’ve received, a lot of people feel that could be doable, but I got to look at that. And I think it’s more prudent to wait to see how things develop over the next several weeks and then we’ll do it. But I think that with… I’m hoping that we would not need to come back to do a special session.

Ron DeSantis: (17:08)
That may even require me to exercise a lot of vetoes. And there may be vetoes on things that I personally support, but just have to say, “In this situation, we are dealing with something that’s unprecedented and we just got to be very responsible. So come back next year, if we’re recovered, come back next year we’ll do it.” So I think that, in terms of veto situation, if we want the budget to stick, I’m going to have to really look hard about what is absolutely necessary and then what things we can punt until next time. [inaudible 00:17:40]

Ron DeSantis: (17:44)
I’m not sure about that. I mean, I think, I’m not sure. I’m not sure that you do. I mean, let’s put it this way, my discussions with the Senate, president, and the Speaker, they’ve not asked me to do that, and I think neither of them are terribly interested in doing that, so.

Speaker 11: (18:00)
At what point in time [inaudible 00:18:00].

Ron DeSantis: (18:06)
Matter of Days. I mean, this is you guys, we’re going to have all kinds of different silos. We’ll have, what does a restaurant look like? What are testing? What about large events? What about non-essential businesses? What type of protective measures? All these different things. And part of it is the guidance we got today from the White House, we’ll obviously want them to look at that. But we’re also talking to other physicians around the state, business leaders around the state, elected officials around the state, to try to get the best ideas. We’ll probably have a silo first to deal with Southeast Florida. I’ve got a number of the elected officials down there that are going to participate, and I’m not saying it’s going to look different from them, but maybe it does, just given the fact that they’ve born so much of the cases and the hospitalizations are in that section of Florida. I think though, having spoken with some of them, their rearing to go, I mean they understand they have challenges, but I think they would like to go to phase two as well.

Ron DeSantis: (19:07)
So, there’s going to be all those things you’ve got to think about, but at the end of the day, talk, discuss, produce ideas, and then let’s roll with it. And so, it’s not going to be something that’s going to take four weeks, I mean this is something within a three to five day period, I want the best ideas we can get. And we’ve been soliciting ideas all along, I talk to people every day in various fields and ask, and I think that there’s somewhat of a consensus on some of the things we need to do. There’s other things that people have different opinions on, but I think it’ll be important to really just get the best ideas out there, figure out.

Ron DeSantis: (19:43)
And what the president’s going to announce today is a phased approach, and so kind of the first phase is a gradual reopening. And then if the trends continue good, then you do a larger reopening after that. They didn’t necessarily tie that to timelines, but I think we can look at the indications and see how things are trending with cases, how things are trending with influenza-like illnesses, as those get reported through our surveillance system. And you can see what direction this is going, monitor if there’s any outbreaks. Don’t forget, I mean so much of the attention, particularly in the press has been you either lock everyone in home or you do nothing. That’s kind of, and that’s a totally false choice.

Ron DeSantis: (20:28)
What we’ve done from the very beginning is contact tracing and isolating people who have tested positive. And in counties, we have counties that have hundreds of thousands of people that have relatively low infection rates in those areas as people present and tested, they can be isolated, their contacts can be traced. That’s really the bread and butter of public health. Then obviously you’re going to not go right into having mass gatherings or some of those other things, but that contact tracing is important, where one of the wickets we have is just testing.

Ron DeSantis: (21:00)
I think that because you have some of these new rapid tests coming on the market, that’s actually going to allow us to maybe leverage some of these private labs in a quicker fashion. They’re supposed to turn it around a certain amount of time, some of these things get sent and people don’t get the results back for five days. Obviously if we’re using this to make sure workforces are safe, make sure other folks who may be at risk are safe. If you’re going to do a lab, a PCR test in a lab, we need to get that back pretty quickly. It’s not going to be an hour, but if you test in the morning and it comes back the next morning, then I think that people will be able to roll with that, so that’s going to be really important as well. We’re already working on, “How can we beef up the capacity in the state labs?”

Ron DeSantis: (21:44)
I mean we have the ability to do PCR testing, but if you look, I mean you can only do so many tests through those labs. I mean there’s limited manpower, limited… I’ve told the surgeon general, “I’d like to see us be able to really expand that,” because we have Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami. If you’re able to do multiple thousands in those labs, that would be a big deal. We’re also looking at some other labs in Florida that think they may have really good capacity to be able to do testing. And I just think the ability to have quick results, obviously we’d love to have an instant test for everybody, but Avid is producing a lot of those, but they’re producing 50,000 a day in a country of 330 million, and they’re probably selling some overseas as well. So you just do the math on that, that’s not going to be available for every single person in May.

Ron DeSantis: (22:31)
I think it will continue to be to the hospitals, and they’re starting to use it, it’s been great and they save resources by doing it. It’s a really, really good thing. And there’s a Cepheid test, which is 45 minutes, which I talked to some of the hospitals that they are using. So there’s a lot of good stuff coming online, but if we can really leverage that lab capacity with the PCR based testing, that will give us a big deal. So I think what you’ll see, and we’re working on… we’ve done all these test centers, drive through centers, and some of them aren’t getting as much traffic, which is a good thing because that means that fewer people are symptomatic. But we actually may have more tests centers in phase two, because it’s going to be partially diagnostic, but partially it may be prophylactic in terms of maybe randomly having people go through just to see if we can detect COVID-19 spreading anywhere in these communities.

Ron DeSantis: (23:24)
But I think, so there’s a whole bunch of stuff that we’re going to have to work through. But I do think that folks, they want us to do it right, they want us to be safe. But I think they do want us to have a clear path forward, so that’s what we’re working on. Got a lot of great ideas, and I’ll talk to those folks tomorrow, I’m going to be down in Broward for some of this stuff. But then hopefully as we get into next week, I’ll be able to present our plan moving forward. So I look forward to doing that. Thank you.