Mar 31, 2020
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Briefing Transcript March 31
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference on March 31 on coronavirus. He vowed that expanded testing as a top priority in Florida. He has faced criticism for not announcing a statewide stay at home order. The only order is currently for South Florida. Read the full press briefing transcript here.
Ron Desantis: (00:00)
Incidents that we’ve seen, that we’ve been working on. But even before that, that’s just a normal part of life in Southern Florida, to have that back and forth with the New York city area. So that’s kind of how this has been seated in that part of the state. And if you look, certainly Broward and Dade and Palm beach, if you look at those numbers. So we are basically trying to do whatever we can to be able to slow down those numbers.
Ron Desantis: (00:26)
I do think that Miami in particular, there was just such a dearth of testing there. I mean I don’t think anyone even tested positive in Miami until … there were some more rural counties I think that even had someone test positive. And so that was kind of a function of the criteria. CDC said you had to be from China, come from China or visit China, when the fact of the matter is as we got into February, this thing was circulating. I think it was circulating during the Super Bowl. And so as you’ve been able to get more testing in Miami, you’ve been able to identify cases. Their rate of positive is a lot higher than statewide. Broward has pretty consistently been about 10% of all the symptomatic people test positive.
Ron Desantis: (01:10)
Dade is much higher than that. I think they’re between 15 and 20% of the people who have symptoms test positive. And so that’s an indication that you have a wider spread. So we’re looking at that. We do though notice that the demographic spread in places like Miami skew a little younger than what we had seen. And I think actually all our information is starting to skew a little younger, because I think a lot of the seniors have heeded the message about being safer at home.
Ron Desantis: (01:45)
When we first started this, we had very limited data. But I mean it really skewed 65 and plus much more significant than it does now. The Dade and Broward, or Dade in particular, you’re starting to see more of that 25 to 55. And doesn’t mean there can’t be any complications there. But if you look at the fatalities, they’re overwhelmingly 65 plus. So that’s something else that we’re looking at. But basically, all four Southeast Florida counties are united. We’re supporting them. We’ve put a lot of supplies down there. We’re going to continue to do that. And we’re happy that we have the Palm Beach testing site there today. And we have been able to do a lot of the monitoring of people coming in from the New York city area. We’ve done thousands and thousands of those.
Ron Desantis: (02:29)
Look, our hope is is that they will be safer at home just like everybody else in Southeast Florida and not potentially spread the virus. So it’s very, very important that you do that. So we’re going to keep working with the folks down in Southeast Florida. I know there’s this issue with these cruise ships and I’ve been in touch with the White House about it, the Coast Guard about it. The way to deal with this is to send medical attention to the ships, to be bringing people into the state of Florida. I think most of these are foreign nationals and that’s using up some of our resources here that we need to have available for Floridians. And so I’ve asked the White House to work on getting medical supplies there. And I think the cruise ships should be responsible for helping facilitate that. But just to, just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Ron Desantis: (03:22)
I’ll talk about the hospital, the hospital situation looks really good right now. But obviously we’re preparing for that to change and it could change any given day. And most of you know we’ve been testing a lot more. And seeing that, so the hospital bed availability, so right at the beginning, protecting the seniors, expanding the testing, and then protecting the healthcare workforce. But then also supporting the healthcare system. And that is the capacity. I mean the whole idea of flattening the curve is so the healthcare system can absorb the infections and the people that require medical attention.
Ron Desantis: (03:57)
The virus kind of, it’s eventually going to do what it’s going to do. But if you can shift that and suppress it, then you’re going to have the healthcare system be able to handle it. So we track on a daily basis the availability of beds. So you can see statewide, we’re close to 37%. Dade, we’re about 41%. in Broward, we’re 45%. of course you look at the ICU beds as well on that. This is just something that we monitor every day. I think the stopping the elected surgeries has opened up more beds.
Ron Desantis: (04:27)
And I think that you’ve had fewer complications from things like influenza. Even though we’re kind of at the end of that season, but I think over the last couple of weeks, because I do think people have changed how they interact with others. I don’t think you see shaking hands as much. I think people do keep their distance. So you have seen a decline in that. And hopefully that pretends well for the fight against COVID-19.
Ron Desantis: (04:51)
As we know the chance of having a negative outcome in terms of a hospitalization or a fatality dramatically increases the older you get. And regardless of age, almost every fatality has had a serious underlying health condition. I asked the health department to start putting how many of the fatalities did have that, because I know a lot of people are asking about that. So we are working on that. And the 77 deaths, you’ve had 23 that have been in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
Ron Desantis: (05:28)
I’ve mentioned I think before, this is a picture one of the field hospitals. we have one in Fort Lauderdale, one in Miami Dade, and of course we have identified other buildings that if there is a need to do that, and have excessive beds where people can go, you’re going to be able to do that. We’re also in touch with the Army Corps and FEMA about what’s going on with … Or having them look at, they’ve already been down here. They’ve looked at different things. And so if there’s a need to have a surge capacity, we’re going to have the Army help us out as well.
Ron Desantis: (05:58)
But as soon as this started, we kind of knew where this may be necessary. And so we procured it. This was not done by the federal government. It was all done by the state government. And I think that was good planning by Jared and the folks at DEM.
Ron Desantis: (06:13)
And then just an update on the travel. We screen between the state line cars, and then the flights, about 8,600 people. And again this is just people coming from the hot zones. When this was flaring up in China, there was monitoring of anybody that came back to Florida who had been in China. When it flared up in Italy, monitored the people who came back from Italy as well. So New York City being the epicenter in the world, same situation, just trying to keep Floridian safe and urging and requiring actually those folks to self isolate for 14 days.
Ron Desantis: (06:48)
So I think that there’s a … and we’re going to be watching the President’s news conference today. I’ve been in touch with some of the task force members earlier. They’re going to update I think these guidelines. And basically, we’re going to follow the guidelines and so whatever they’re recommending, we’ll go ahead and do that. And so I may take their guidelines, kind of create a streamlined version of what we’ve already done, but put it in there, add whatever needs to be added, and then send that out.
Ron Desantis: (07:16)
But I think that there’s been a lot of Floridians who have been working very, very hard. And I just want to thank them. I want to thank all the folks on the front lines in the healthcare industry at our hospitals, our nurses, our doctors. They’re working hard and I think they’re doing a great job. So let’s just keep fighting. But I think that if we all do our part, I think we’re going to be able to, to get through this. And with that take some questions.
Speaker 2: (07:43)
What are you hearing about the number of nurses that are having their hours reduced or being furloughed as a result of the elective surgeries. There just aren’t patients there. What guidance would you give hospitals, given the fact that there may be a surge in visits at [inaudible 00:00:07:58]?
Ron Desantis: (07:56)
Well, right, so look, I totally get it. I mean, and that’s one of the problems with doing the elective surgery suspension, is that the surgeries are typically how a lot of these medical outfits are able to keep the lights on. So it’s unfortunate. But I think that we want to make sure that folks are going to be able to be there in the event of a surge. And so if there are folks who can be brought to the fight, we have hired a lot of contract nurses through the Department of Emergency Management. If there’s a need in the hospitals for more folks, we want people to be able to go in there and work.
Ron Desantis: (08:30)
I think it’s very, very important, when you look at the healthcare workers, the danger is first of all this stuff, when you’re in these hospitals, you’re going to get exposed one way or another. Hopefully you don’t get infected, but it’s really difficult to do your job, even with the PPE. I mean it’s just tough. So there’s going to be times when people get exposed. If you have a quick test, that’s great. If you don’t have that, then all contacts have to self isolate. You can lose a lot of the staff. And that’s a very, very difficult thing. So anybody who would be willing to pitch in, either on a volunteer or contract basis, I think that they should do so. We have brought in a lot of contract folks. But if there’s a need for more, we’ll certainly do more.
Speaker 3: (09:13)
Governor, from the scientist side of the White House, spoke with the Surgeon General [inaudible 00:09:19] yesterday, advising [inaudible 00:09:19] to shut down. Is the Surgeon General still, or is he recommending to you for the state not to shut down? [Crosstalk 00:09:25]
Ron Desantis: (09:25)
Who recommended that?
Speaker 3: (09:26)
That was a scientist at the White House. I don’t know what his name was. Yeah. That’s him.
Ron Desantis: (09:28)
Speaker 2: (09:28)
Mark [Inaudible 00:09:35]. He was part of the study that the President cited.
Ron Desantis: (09:38)
So I’m in contact with them and basically I’ve said, “Are you guys recommending this?” The task force has not recommended that to me. If they do, obviously that would be something that would carry a lot of weight with me. We have done really, and this has been going on for two weeks because we’re working with the Southeast Florida counties. There’s not really any more you can do in Southeast Florida. You just got to kind of stay the course at this point.
Ron Desantis: (10:01)
Some of the other areas, it’s just a different situation. We’re a big diverse state. If you look at New York state, obviously in New York city, surrounding areas, some of the other places, they’re just in a different situation. But I’ve looked forward to the guidelines. We’re obviously going to take whatever they say and we’re going to implement that in Florida. And if any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course we’re going to consider. But nobody has said that to me thus far.
Speaker 4: (10:30)
Governor, several experts are talking and many are saying the Florida is in the midst of one of the worst outbreaks in the country, and it’s going to happen sometime in May because we haven’t been testing enough. I’m sure you’ve heard them or you’ve heard the chatter about them.
Ron Desantis: (10:46)
Well, first of all, we’ve gone through the testing numbers. I think they speak for themselves in terms of we’re over 60,000 tests. We’re doing thousands and thousands of tests a day. If we get over 100,000, given our population, that’ll be about one in 200 people, which was considered the gold standard with South Korea. It’s been a number one priority for us. And the idea that there wasn’t testing originally, it wasn’t because of us. I would have taken … if I had the ability to do it, we would have done it. We are in kind of a different environment with the CDC regulations and what they wanted to do. We’ve broke through that. And we are testing and we’re going to continue to do it. We’ve set up probably more drive-through sites than just about anybody. Some of these sites are putting through 700, 800 people a day and turning this stuff around.
Ron Desantis: (11:32)
So we’re going to continue to do it for sure. But part of the reason why, because we’ve tested so much, that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to identify these things. I mean you look at some of these other States, Michigan, they had more positives than us. They only had 12,000 negative. We had 50,000 negative based on yesterday’s yesterday’s numbers. So as you test more, you’re going to identify more and I’ve talked about Dade and kind of how we’re viewing that. The Palm Beach site I think is going to be very important. Palm Beach has had testing, but I think they need more. So we thought that that was a priority to send that to them.
Speaker 5: (12:07)
Governor, [crosstalk 00:12:08] reports that it seems like you’re saying that you’re waiting for a signal from the task force, that you’re really waiting for them to make the right decision. [Crosstalk 00:12:15]
Ron Desantis: (12:15)
No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying we’re kind of going, [inaudible 00:12:18] has anyone recommended to me, an official. And it’s one thing for a talking head or someone to do, but it’s someone in the official thing. So anytime someone in this process says something, I mean, I obviously consider it. I mean I think you got to.
Speaker 5: (12:34)
Governor, when you’ve been speaking about priorities, you said very little yet about the unemployment compensation system. And today there was another call for a statewide order for you to issue to ban evictions in this state. What about the economic upheaval [crosstalk 00:12:48]?
Ron Desantis: (12:51)
Well, we’ve been talking about the unemployment a lot. I mean, as soon as this started happening, I told Ken Lawson, Department of Economic Opportunity, expand the capabilities. He’s been working to hire as many people to help process claims. We knew that this was going to be something that was going to be really, really bad. It’s going to hit Florida especially bad, because I mean Disney World is closed. All these things are closed. And that’s going to throw a lot of people into upheaval. But that’s something that I consider in all of this. Because some of these things, when businesses are closing, it’s going to be some parts of the state where if it closes for a month, it just ain’t coming back. And it’s going to be very difficult for a lot of people.
Ron Desantis: (13:31)
So I’ve been mindful of the second and third order effects of some of these things, which is why I’ve tried to tailor the approach to see where the fight was in terms of the virus had taken hold, where it was really spreading throughout the community, but trying not to be as ham-handed because I just feared that if you do that in an area that already has a lot of tools, has the ability to test, has all these other really stringent mitigation things that we have statewide. I mean that’s never been done in modern Florida history before. So those are things.
Ron Desantis: (14:05)
So I think it’s a huge, huge problem. We’re going to work as fast as we can on it, but it is not going to be something that is going to happen, where we’re going to be able to field and process these things over night, just simply because of the magnitude of it. It is orders of magnitude above what the financial crisis did. And that obviously hurt this state a lot, because you had the housing bubble collapse. You had a lot of problems here in the state of Florida. One of the things I am working on is you notice how the state is quiet.
Ron Desantis: (14:37)
I mean you look at the roads, there’s just not a lot going on right now. And that’s understandable. But given that, given that the traffic is down and everything, I’m going to be looking at accelerating some of these projects because when you’re doing those on busy roads, it causes a lot of problems when those roads are no longer busy. If that’s going to be the case for the next month, then we’re going to need to make use of that time and I think a lot of people be will be-
Speaker 6: (15:05)
[crosstalk 00:15:05] that you can throw off to people right now who are in between pay checks?
Ron Desantis: (15:09)
We’re going to do the unemployment system for sure. I mean we want to be able to get that out. This bill that just passed, we’re scrutinizing that and obviously want to be able to assist in anything that’s flowing there. I authorize for the small business folks who are either out of business or are in really tough shape, bridge loans. I’ve been working with Senator Rubio on the small business program that they did in the bill, which I think will benefit a lot of Floridians. Those regulations are being written now. On Friday, I think they’re going to be done on Friday. I mean there’s a desire to turn that around quickly and if they do that, we definitely want to get that information out to people so that they can apply. I think that’ll be much more effective than a lot of government programs, because they’re going to be able to go to the private sector, get the loan, federal government will back the loan. And a lot of these loans are just going to be forgiven. So that’ll give people the ability to get through a tough period.
Speaker 7: (16:03)
Governor, [crosstalk 00:16:04] we’ve been trying to confirm a tip, whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. But that thousands of tests in North Florida got screwed up and had to be redone. Are you aware of any problems with testing, mistakes that are being made?
Ron Desantis: (16:17)
Where in North Florida? At the Duvall testing site?
Speaker 7: (16:21)
Ron Desantis: (16:22)
Okay. I’m not aware of it. I know Leon County, they did their own site early on. That was something that we were glad to see, but it wasn’t anything that we were necessarily involved with. So I just can’t confirm that
Speaker 7: (16:34)
You’re hearing any problems anywhere else?
Ron Desantis: (16:36)
I mean, I think the biggest problems is you have the tests people go through. They gather up all these tests and then they send it to a commercial lab and there’s just a nationwide crush. I mean, we went from … if you look at how many tests had been done by March 1st in this country, I bet you it wasn’t even a hundred thousand tests. Now we just hit a million tests. Well, there’s only a couple of labs that do this. And so everyone around the country is sending it to just a handful of commercial laboratories. And what happens is you go through, you wait, you wait. And it’s not a 24-hour turnaround. It’s not a 48-hour, which I think their goal was 48 hours. So sometimes it’ll take longer. And that’s a problem.
Ron Desantis: (17:18)
We do, with these instant tests, that’s going to alleviate that. And I think that that’ll be a wonderful thing. So we want to get as many of those instant tests as we can. We now are able, I mean we’ve pushed out supplies for the traditional drive through testing. We have the ability to do tens of thousands more of those. As soon as we get the Abbott test, now that’ll be mostly done through the hospitals. But that’ll really be a game changer. And so we’re looking forward to that.
Speaker 8: (17:47)
[crosstalk 00:17:47] Governor, are there any [inaudible 00:17:48] in the Florida prison system, a dozen Florida prison employees have tested positive for coronavirus. And there’s worry that there’s not enough supplies to protect staff and that testing is not happening fast enough for inmates and staff. Is there anything [inaudible 00:18:00] is doing to [crosstalk 00:18:04]?
Ron Desantis: (18:03)
If they need supplies, I mean they should talk to … I’ll tell General Lynch to talk to Jared a DEM. I mean, we do have the ability to provide some protective equipment for sure. And there are tests available. I mean until we get the rapid test, I can’t guarantee I’m going to you’re going to get it turned around immediately. But there are tests available and we’ve not only pushed out the test, all these sites, we’re replenishing all the County Health Departments as well.
Speaker 8: (18:29)
Is there testing for those that are state leaders, college, virtual press conferences, supporting asking for a statewide election moratorium. What is your message for those that are coming up short for their right now?
Ron Desantis: (18:40)
So we’re looking at that. I know the President had talked about doing it, so we’re trying to see what they did federally. Obviously you’re not going to be able to rent out a place right now. So I think it makes sense. So we’re looking at it and see what we have to do.
Speaker 9: (18:55)
Governor, [crosstalk 00:18:55] we’re seeing the number of cases doubling every few days. And yet there’s certain places in the state where, St John’s County Beaches, where they’re closed. You’re seeing other reports in the state where there’s still more [inaudible 00:19:13] that are happening. Do you think that your approach of leaving it up to local jurisdiction to make these decisions are hindering their efforts to [crosstalk 00:19:25]
Ron Desantis: (19:25)
So here’s the thing, I don’t have an enforcement arm here. Anything has got to be done by the locals anyway. So I could say this or that. I mean the Southeast Florida folks asked me to to close their beaches, so we did in one of our earlier orders. I was flying out of Miami yesterday, looking at the coast. Guess what? Closed beach. Were there people out there? You’re damn right there were. So it’s just like water balloon restrictions here. People go, you can do this, you got to do this. So there’s a group of people that are going to just kind of pop around and it’s really up to the locals to deal with them one way or another. So yeah, I think our guidance is no groups of 10 or more follow what the CDC said. I think that’s the best way to be safe. And I think if people do that, they’re good.
Ron Desantis: (20:10)
But I mean you see this in New York City, huge crowds that they’re doing. And they have greeted the ship. There were hundreds of people there. When California did their stay at home, Southern California, they were just packing on the beaches. So that’s just the reality that we’re dealing with that not everybody believes that they need to to govern themselves accordingly. But yeah, I would urge everybody to just take a step back and realize that when we get on the other side of this, there’s going to be times to have a big party in someone’s house or do this or that. Now’s the time to avoid crowds, take care of yourself, take the social distancing seriously. And I think if you do that, then we’re going to be able to get back to normal much quicker.
Ron Desantis: (20:54)
If you’re disregarding that then, but the bottom line is you are going to have people who are going to be, who are going to be doing this. We’ve seen that in every state in the country. We’re a very big state. As much as I don’t want to see that, I know the locals are going to have to just police as best they can. But I think that we really are focused on getting all this stuff to people, testing, do all that, because that will make a difference. And it’s just unfortunate. But I think no matter what you do, you’re going to have a class of folks who just are going to do whatever the hell they want to.
Speaker 10: (21:28)
[crosstalk 00:21:28] last question.
Speaker 11: (21:28)
We’re getting calls from people who live north of the four stay-at-home counties, worried that those folks will do with the New Yorkers did, move North and move up to places where [crosstalk 00:21:43].
Ron Desantis: (21:41)
So here’s the deal. I mean, and so we’ll look at that. I think that’s a legitimate concern. But I mean, everything’s pretty much closed. I mean it’s not like there’s anything to do. And so but I do understand people just kind of want an outlet. They want to do this. So we’ll look at that. We’ll see how it’s going. But I will say this, those counties have been stay at home basically anyways. I kind of came in and just made them all one unit just so everyone was on the same page. And I’m not sure how much that had happened or not. But at the end of the day, I just think people need to be responsible. There’s not a whole lot right now. I mean, there’s certain … you can go to work and obviously in certain industries, very important you do that.
Ron Desantis: (22:23)
But other than that, there’s just really not a whole lot going on. So people should just kind of chill out and stay around the house as much as they can. And it doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk or do some things, just get some fresh air. But in terms of being social right now, this is just not the time to have any big social gatherings or doing anything like that. And I hope that people will respect it. I do think that there’ve been enough people in Florida who’ve just taken this thing seriously in terms of their hygiene, in terms of how they keep their distance and do that. I do think you’ve seen a change in the past couple of weeks. And we’ll see how that impacts this going forward. And I think that that does really, really make a difference.
Ron Desantis: (23:07)
And I really appreciate, because from the very beginning of this, we had had enough information to see how the virus affected elderly or people who were frail. And our stay at home if you’re 65 or plus, if you have a serious medical condition, doing that really makes a difference. If those folks continue to do that, I think many of them are, I think many of them are being very, very careful, which is the right thing to do. I mean, if they do that, then we’re going to be in a situation we will be able to get through this. And so those folks thank you for what you’re doing because I think it’s made a very big difference.
Ron Desantis: (23:44)
And so we’re going to have an announcement tomorrow on the infrastructure, but I think now’s a golden time. If we’re going to be kind of in a downstate for the next two to four weeks or however long the guidelines go for, that is a perfect time to really accelerate on some of these busy roads. There’s not going to be any traffic jams. So we’re going to identify some projects and hopefully be able to make a big difference. Thank you. [crosstalk 00:00:19]