May 8, 2020
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 8
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a coronavirus press conference on May 8. DeSantis said barbershops and salons can reopen Monday in most of Florida. Read his full news briefing speech here.
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Ron DeSantis: (00:00)
That’s the lowest that we’ve had probably since the epidemic began, but certainly, it’s the lowest we’ve had in the last six or seven weeks. Statewide, our ICU use has declined over the past couple of weeks. We reported last night, 497 people statewide in the ICU. We were well over 800 a few weeks ago. We also reported 269 people on ventilators. That’s a significant decline from where we were two or three weeks ago. So there’s a lot of good trends. The work certainly isn’t done, but I think it’s pretty clear in every corner of the state, flattening the curve so that the hospital system would be able to cope, that has been achieved. We have space in all the hospitals. Even as we’ve added elective surgeries back, you still have space to be able to cope with the coronavirus. Obviously, we hope nobody ends up in the hospital, but the healthcare system is held and that’s very, very important.
Ron DeSantis: (01:04)
So this has been a very successful test center here. If you look when we come online and then we added the one in Delray Beach. We’ve had a lot of people come through these test centers, gotten a lot of testing done for people of Palm Beach County, which is very, very important. The diagnostic tests are important. If you have symptoms, obviously, you want to know whether you’re positive. And if you are, then you isolate. Hopefully it’s not a clinically significant infection and you don’t need to go to the hospital. So you isolate. And if you’re negative, you’re negative, that’s great. But you can be negative one day and then a week later you can get infected. So, a negative result doesn’t give you kind of a “get out of jail free card” forever.
Ron DeSantis: (01:49)
So it’s very important to have diagnostic testing. We’ve actually expanded a number of sites just in the last week because we think it’s very important, as we’re into phase one and beyond, that we have a lot of testing in the State of Florida. So we’re going to continue to do it. We’ve done over half a million tests in Florida since the epidemic began. And in most of our areas, and I think it looks like here as well, most of our drive-in sites have more capacity than the demand right now. So I would just tell people, if you haven’t been tested, if you have any symptoms, please come. You’re a healthcare worker, first responder, come. Even if you don’t have symptoms, if you think you just may have been exposed, you’re welcome to come and be tested. That’s very important.
Ron DeSantis: (02:29)
But what’s also important is antibody testing. So the antibody testing will determine whether you have the antibodies. In other words, these are antibodies that your body creates to fight the disease. So if you have the presence of antibodies, that means you’ve been infected with COVID-19. And that’s very important because the antibodies, most people believe, confer immunity, at least we don’t know how long, but there’s certain some level of immunity. And then it also just will show how many people have actually had this thing throughout the state and different regions of the state. There have been seroprevalence testing that’s been done in places like Santa Clara, California, L.A. Miami Dade did one with the University of Miami. And what they’ve tended to find is that the number of people who have the antibodies far, far out see exceeds the number of people who’ve actually tested positive. So, that is important to know. And I think it’s shown… And you’ve seen this in other controlled areas like a Navy ship, some of these prisons, where you’ll have massive numbers of people test positive, but an overwhelming percentage are asymptomatic. And particularly as you talk about populations under 50 years old, most of these infections, I think most of us think, are asymptomatic.
Ron DeSantis: (03:49)
So antibody testing can be deployed in a number of ways. One is to do seroprevalence studies in different parts of the state. Miami has done one. We would like to do them in particularly our major counties to get a sense of the baseline we’re operating under. But then also on an individual basis, if you’re a healthcare worker, if you’re a first responder, having access to antibody testing is very, very significant. We don’t believe we’ve had a rash of healthcare workers infected in hospitals like you’ve seen in some other parts. I was at Tampa General the other week and all of their infections had been healthcare workers who got it from being in other areas like New York City early on in the epidemic. But we don’t know for sure, so doing antibody testing for healthcare workers is very important, and also for first responders.
Ron DeSantis: (04:41)
So today I’m pleased to announce that starting tomorrow, right here at this test center, there will be drive through antibody testing for first responders and for healthcare workers. So, you work at a hospital, you work at a nursing home, all of that, you can come through here. We think we’ll be able to do about a hundred a day to start. This is a test where you actually have to draw the blood. So it takes a little bit more time than just doing a nasal swab. But when they draw the blood, they put it into the test strip and you get a result within 15 minutes. So, that’s good. The people that come through here will get same day results and you’ll be able to determine whether you have antibodies or not. This is one step that we’re doing. We were pleased to bring that here.
Ron DeSantis: (05:24)
We’ve also got the first 200000 antibody tests delivered earlier this week and we have put out word to all the hospitals who wants some, so we’ve sent some to hospitals. Certainly you have a lot of hospital facilities here. I’m sure they’ve requested. If they have, we’re going to fulfill those. But those are very, very important. These are FDA-approved tests made by Cellex. They distinguish between other coronaviruses and COVID-19, which is very, very important. And we think that the focus on the healthcare workers and first responders is the appropriate way to start.
Ron DeSantis: (06:01)
We’re also introduced this at Hardrock Stadium in Miami earlier this week. Tomorrow we’re going to also be doing it at Jacksonville at the Jacksonville Jaguars Stadium and in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. And so we’re starting to have a lot of antibody testing prevalent throughout the State of Florida. So we’re really happy.
Ron DeSantis: (06:22)
As many of you know, on Monday we started as a state phase one of our rebuilding Florida plan. It’s a safe, smart step-by-step approach informed by a lot of the leading physicians in the state, informed by a number of people, including Mayor Kerner who served on our Re-Open Florida Task Force. We’re being deliberate. We’re being methodical about this because we want to make sure we do it the right way. Now when we did it, Florida as a state satisfied the gating requirements that the White House laid out in their documents several weeks ago. We had declining indicators for ILI Activity and for syndromatic indicators associated with COVID-19. We also had declining cases, but more importantly, because we’ve expanded testing, really great decline in the rate of positivity. And actually Palm Beach now, they were at 18% a couple of weeks ago. Now they’re under 10% for all the positivity, which is a good trend. So we had that and then clearly we had enough hospital space statewide to be able to handle any type of uptick.
Ron DeSantis: (07:29)
So we qualified as a state, but we also looked at it and said, “The epidemic was different in different parts of the state.” Certainly Southeast Florida, the three counties, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami Dade had had more seeding, I think it’s pretty clear, probably from the Northeast and New York City. And so they’ve had to deal with a different epidemic. And so we wanted to make sure that they were able to proceed in ways that their community supported and that made the most sense.
Ron DeSantis: (07:58)
So when we did phase one, we did the 64 other Florida counties, but we knew that the trends in these three counties, the epidemic was more difficult, but the trends were still positive. And so I’ve been working, and we’ve worked together, with the counties from the beginning. It’s a bottom up process. You got to do it that way, collaborating so that we can move forward together. I received the letter yesterday from Mayor Kerner, and I know the Commission in Palm Beach County is interested in moving to phase one. So that’s something that we considered very significantly and we believe that getting as many counties into phase one is something that we would want to do, but we want to do it safely, smartly, and it’s going to be step-by-step.
Ron DeSantis: (08:42)
Our overarching strategy does not change with respect to COVID.The form it takes may change, but the key points are going to remain the same. Just because you go to phase one, that does not mean the disease is going away. It’s not going to just go away magically. The shape of it may be different. We seem to be on a decline in many parts of the country, but nobody really knows exactly how this thing’s going to bounce. So we’re always going to stick to the plan of protecting the vulnerable populations, particularly our elderly, continuing to increase not just diagnostic testing but serological testing, promoting social distancing, which is very, very important. And that doesn’t mean you got to be locked in your house to social distance. There’s other parts of that. In fact, most social distancing doesn’t really even have anything to do with sheltering in place. We’re going to continue to support hospitals and our healthcare workers.
Ron DeSantis: (09:37)
And we’re going to continue to work on preventing the introduction of the virus from out-of-state. I’m working on a plan to submit to the president for international flights coming into places, particularly south Florida. You look at a Brazil or some of these places in South America, if they have the epidemic on the upswing there and people are coming in to Florida, they could be introducing that. That should not be a risk that is placed on Floridians. That’s something that the airlines need to work out on the front end, so we’re working on how that would make sense. And then of course we have screened between 40 and 50000 people coming from hotspots like New York City into the State of Florida. And I did do a quarantine order very early on. I think that’s been very, very effective at both a deterrent message saying don’t come if you’re in one of these hotspots, but then also having people actually self-isolate and reducing the spread of what we would otherwise see. So we’re going to continue to do that.
Ron DeSantis: (10:36)
The White House put out some guidelines for phase one. My task force put out some recommendations. The phase one that we launched in Florida was an important step, but admittedly it was a small step. It wasn’t a huge difference from what we’ve been doing. There were things that the White House said would be okay to do, like movie theaters. There were things that my task force recommended we do that I decided not to do in phase one because we want to be very measured about it. We want to be safe and we want to be smart. So what we did do in phase one was, obviously, continue the kids on distance learning for K through 12. We’ve continued having the prohibitions on entering senior living facilities. We allowed elective surgeries to proceed, which was banned per CDC’s guidance to conserve hospital space, but really, to conserve PPE. We’re now at a point where we were able to turn that on. And the hospitals who do it are effectively having to certify that they have enough PPE, they have enough surge hospital capacity in the case of an uptick with COVID, and that they’re willing to help with the assisted living and long-term care facilities in their area. Because I think we all recognize that is the most significant area that would be susceptible to a major outbreak that would have major clinical consequences. So, that’s kind of how they’ve done-
Ron DeSantis: (12:03)
… but they’ve been able to put some of these back on the calendar and just because something’s elective doesn’t mean it’s not important and it doesn’t mean it’s not necessary for people’s health. So we felt we really needed to do that, which is very important. We’ve also expanded the ability of restaurants to serve their customers. They’ve been able to do carry out and take out this whole time. We’ve allowed to do outdoor seating with the appropriate social distancing and then 25% of the indoor capacity, of course, appropriate social distancing there. Now, restaurants who were totally closed may not open at 25%. They may wait until we get to future phases, but I think for most restaurants who have been open, being able to have some limited indoor seating as well as outdoor seating, I think that that’s a step in the right direction.
Ron DeSantis: (12:51)
And then we also allowed the remaining retail who had not been operating with indoor capacity to do that at limited capacity. A lot of retail was going on during this time, Home Depot, some of these places, Target, Walmart, all those things remained open and so these are small steps, but they’re not radical changes for what we’ve been doing, but I think it’s smart to proceed methodically and so I’ve looked at Palm Beach’s requests. I am going to authorize starting Monday Palm Beach County to move into phase one consistent with what we’ve done and we think that they’re ready for it. I think the people here are very smart. We understand the responsibility that we all have to protect the vulnerable populations here. I have Mary Mayhew is going to say a few words, our secretary of OCHA, she’s worked from the very beginning with the hospitals, with the longterm care facilities to develop solutions to protect our most vulnerable residents.
Ron DeSantis: (13:50)
If you look, some other states actually had policies that would require sick COVID patients to go back into a nursing home that wasn’t equipped to handle it. That obviously led to outbreaks and disastrous results. Mary, from the very beginning, has understood the risks associated with doing that work with the hospitals to prevent that. And we’ve had a lot of hospitals in Florida that have really been proactive. If there’s signs of an outbreak, you know they’ve sent people. There have been testing. I have the national guard going to nursing homes. We’ve got 50 teams going out and testing. This, I’ll say a little bit more about, but this is one of the first, I think we think it’s the first rapid test mobile lab that anyone’s done in the country and that is serving our nursing homes. So we have to do that going forward. Palm Beach, the hospitals here, Mary will talk about, she’s worked with them.
Ron DeSantis: (14:43)
It’s very rare to get all these different healthcare providers on board, but I think we all recognize that this is a disease that does not affect everyone equally. In Florida, I think we’re now at about 83, 84% of fatalities are 65 and up and 61% are 75 and up. So the vulnerabilities are clear in terms of where that lies. So working collaboratively with the local government, with the hospitals, with OCHA, department of health, national guard, to be able to protect these vulnerable residents is really, really important. We were just in Jacksonville and Mary secretary Mayhew developed a relationship with a longterm care facility that is capable of isolation, negative pressure, and having COVID patients without it obviously spreading, follow CDC guidelines. So what that is now doing is they partnered with the state. If you have an outbreak at a nursing home and you have a patient who doesn’t require hospitalization, but it wouldn’t be safe to send them back to their nursing home, they can go to this facility where is safe.
Ron DeSantis: (15:50)
Or if you have somebody who’s hospitalized but then they’re ready to be discharged but they’re positive, you can send them to this facility. So that’s that whole region is now using that approach and those are the type of creative solutions we need to do. So that’s going to be very important that what’s being done in Palm Beach continues because we have to protect the vulnerable as we move forward. I think Palm Beach, if you look at what they’ve been able to do, they’ve had a lot of challenges because you’ve had a lot of traffic, you know this whole year, January, February, early March, back and forth. Even New York once they did the shelter in place, you had people flee down here and although we did the quarantine, you know it’s just a tough thing yet people getting on flights who were COVID positive landing at Palm Beach international so they’ve had to deal with a lot.
Ron DeSantis: (16:37)
And I think the local government here has worked really, really hard throughout this and we’ve enjoyed the partnership. But if you’ll look, Palm Beach has certainly seen a decline in the number of tests that come back positive. They were 18% a couple of weeks ago. They’re now 9%. Most recently they’ve been between three and it looks like seven and a half percent over the past week or so. That’s a good trend. The one day, May 3rd where we saw more cases reported that had been different from the trend we had seen was a function of us setting up the walkup sites and some of the underserved communities. That’s not a bad sign if you’re going into places and expanding testing to communities who probably wouldn’t be getting tested. So being able to do that I think is very important and we’re going to continue keeping the walkup test sites because I think that that’s been a boon to some of the communities here, but Palm Beach is indicators for ILI and COVID have gone down.
Ron DeSantis: (17:35)
Certainly if you look where they were at the end of March till now and then you look at the hospital admissions, I think the hospitalizations have basically been flat now for a couple of weeks. There’s clearly capacity here in the hospitals if you were to see an uptick. I’m hoping not because I think that they’re doing a lot of great social distancing and I know some of these businesses are very intent on doing that but that’s just the reality. You have significant space in the hospitals as we go forward. So I think Palm Beach is incredibly important for our state. This is not like flipping a switch, it’s not just going to go back overnight, but I think if we take nice, strong, methodical, safe steps forward, we’re going to be able to get people back to work and you can put people back to work and still support our seniors.
Ron DeSantis: (18:23)
You can put people back to work and still send PPE to longterm care facilities. You can put people back to work and still have procedures in place so that these residents are cared for appropriately. Florida has now sent 10 million masks just to longterm care facilities since the epidemic started. That’s a huge commitment to these facilities and we’re going to continue to do that. One of the game changers we’ll have, to be able to protect the vulnerable, is this new mobile lab, this RV unit. So you actually have people being tested today in Palm Beach. What they do is they go to a central location, the teams farm out and they test residents and they test staff of the nursing home in longterm care facilities. Those tasks can be returned in 45 minutes. So you’re getting results and as close to real time as we can.
Ron DeSantis: (19:14)
And that’s important because if you do identify a couple of positive cases in a longterm care facility and you know immediately, you have the ability to isolate that cluster and prevent it from spreading throughout the facilities. One of the things we’ve learned about this disease is it thrives in close contact and closed spaces. And if they have that, it can spread like wildfire. You see it in these meat packing plants throughout the country where it spreads. You see it in prisons and you have seen it in longterm care facilities. And so the early intervention is very critical to be able to spot this. And what we found is there’s tough procedures for all the staff to be able to work every day. And the vast, vast majority of our facilities follow it and have been successful. Some don’t follow the regulations. And we’ve seen poor results when they haven’t, but then you also have folks who are asymptomatic.
Ron DeSantis: (20:08)
They will pass a temperature check, they aren’t coughing, they’re not sneezing. So if you have those, testing is really the only way to be able to identify that. So this is really important. We’re going to be doing 3,500 tests a week just with this RV and we’re going to continue our national guard strike teams who they’ve done… You know they’ve done over I think 15,000 tests by now for the national guard, which has been really, really significant and we appreciate that very much. We’re also enlisting private partners with testing. So Walgreens, for example, they’re going to open nine drive-through sites in Florida. One of them will be in Palm Beach County in Jupiter. So that’s great because that’s something in people’s neighborhoods, they know it. They’d be able to go get tested. I waived the restrictions to allow the licensed pharmacists to be able to give the test. They weren’t allowed to previously. So this has really opened up I think some more convenient testing and I think Walmart and CVS are going to be doing things as well.
Ron DeSantis: (21:12)
So I’m going to let secretary Mayhew talk about the partnership with the hospitals as we look to protect longterm care facilities and now have Mayor Kerner come up and say a few words, but I just think that in order for Florida to come back, you know we need Palm Beach County in a leadership role. It’s an incredible place. You’ve had so much great stuff that’s gone on here. I think there’s still obviously a tremendous amount of potential. So at the state of Florida we’re going to be working hand in hand with the County to smartly, safely, step by step approach, but to, to move forward in a way that is going to be going to be good for our residents and our citizens.
Ron DeSantis: (21:50)
And I’m excited to be here. I think this is an exciting step. It’s a long way from home and we’re going to be deliberate. I got people telling me to just, you know, end everything and just go, I get that. I know people are antsy, but we want to make sure we’re doing it a, in a safe and smart way. So I’m going to let Secretary Mayhew provide some information about the longterm care and the hospital relationships, and then Mayor Kerner
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (22:17)
Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. We have created such a strong foundation in Florida that now allows us to move forward. And while we have provided strong state level leadership, we’ve always respected the regional response. And so I have worked closely with hospitals throughout the state on a regional basis to respect those relationships and the level of collaboration that has been so vital to Florida’s success. I am so proud of our hospitals, of our skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities and their level of engagement. We have worked closely with the hospitals as the governor described to monitor day in and day out, their bed availability, their PPE supplies, their screening, their level of preparedness. But as we began moving in this direction, we have made crystal clear that we are maintaining our laser beam focus on protecting our most vulnerable, our frail, elderly individuals with underlying medical conditions. And so our work and supporting our nursing homes, our assisted living facilities continues, and it is going to take a regional partnership. There are some impressive models in this area of the state where hospitals are doing, as the governor described, proactive outreach-
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (24:03)
… working with nursing homes and assisted living facilities for early identification, to provide infection prevention, education and support. This is an aggressive virus. To battle it effectively has required an incredible level of infection prevention and control, often exceeding what some nursing homes are able to do. Not only is the population that they serve highly vulnerable, those residential settings are incredibly vulnerable to rapid transmission.
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (24:47)
So early identification is important that we can ensure that two cases don’t become 20. That five do not become 50 and the hospitals have been working in partnership, so when a transfer is needed from the nursing home, the hospitals have been available to do that, to provide the level of isolation, the clinical monitoring and we need that partnership to continue.
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (25:17)
Testing is a game changer. We know that we have asymptomatic staff. We know that we have asymptomatic residents. So as we continue to expand this testing availability, it will further contribute to the early identification and the opportunity to appropriately isolate, so that we can protect our elderly, so that we can ensure that they have the right isolation, the right clinical monitoring.
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (25:46)
Again, I am so incredibly proud of the work that I have seen of the hospitals here, of the nursing homes, of the assisted living facilities and we need to make sure that that vigilance remains so that we don’t see the spike and that we can continue to open our great state.
Secretary Mary Mayhew: (26:05)
Thank you very much.
Mayor Kerner: (26:12)
Thank you governor. Welcome to Palm Beach County, sir, it’s an honor to have you here. As we stand here today, my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners continue to meet and regular session and taking public comment directly at the moment on over $260 million of federal funds that we need to appropriate and move into this community because the economy needs help and our folks need financial relief and they need a way forward that balances both public safety along with the emphasis and focus on rebuilding our economy. So used to wearing a mask, I forgot.
Mayor Kerner: (26:50)
Let me talk about where we’re at right now as a county. As we sit here or stand here today, there’s 233 COVID positive patients in our hospital. There are 67 patients in our ICU system. There are 39 members of our community on ventilators and while each and every one of those Palm Beach County citizens is struggling deeply with COVID, when you look at the 1.5 million population of our county, there’s a reason why our numbers are as suppressed as they are for such a large and urban county.
Mayor Kerner: (27:24)
Now granted we are 1.5 million people but that is a significantly less than our neighbors to the south, both in Broward and Miami-Dade County. So it’s not a surprise that we have the ascent and the confirmation from the governor here on our unanimous requests from the Board of County Commissioners to enter Phase One and for that governor, we thank you.
Mayor Kerner: (27:45)
But the reason while we are here and the reason why we can open Phase One in Palm Beach County and lead the way to economic recovery is not just because of government action, it’s because the government and this community worked hand-in-hand with one another.
Mayor Kerner: (27:59)
Secretary Mayhew commented on the governor’s actions as a leader of this state and how he’s collaborated with his local officials. Many officials say, yes, local government is the best government because they govern the closest to the people. Governor you have stood up to that and empowered us to work directly with you and the results speak for themselves and I look forward to that relationship continuing both here in Palm Beach County and throughout the state of Florida where this governor governs. I’m particularly excited to announce that in addition to the steps that we’ve taken requesting Phase One, the Board of County Commissioners also recently authorized a return to limited recreation in this county. Both golf, boating, our public park system, tennis, all those things that we love to enjoy in Palm Beach County in this beautiful sun and beautiful weather, will help our community recover and it’s no surprise to me that this community again has stepped up like they did during the safer at home portion, that they suppress the virus by following the instructions of health officials and the elected leaders.
Mayor Kerner: (29:09)
This community also then went out into the community and embraced a new way of recreation and did it safely and the numbers bear that out. Now we’re entering Phase One and I have no doubts that this community will continue to lead the way in south Florida and the way that we learn this new normal and the way that we adapt to this new way of interacting with our friends and our family and our loved ones in a commercial setting like a restaurant. It won’t happen overnight, but this community is prepared to move forward in that economic recovery plan.
Mayor Kerner: (29:40)
Governor, I’m also excited to announce that Palm Beach County continues to lead the way in a safe, smart, and step-by-step way and that we voted just now to open up tentatively our public beaches in Palm Beach County, starting on the 18th of May, which will be a Monday. During that time and during that period that measured methodical period, our county leadership will continue to interact both with the governor’s office and with our local municipal leaders, mayors and city managers to ensure that there is a consistent way of implementation of our beaches in this county.
Mayor Kerner: (30:15)
I have no doubts that when the 18th comes, if not before, this county will be ready and prepared to embrace the social distancing requirements to keep us safe and to continue to suppress this spread. But at the same time, as Secretary Mayhew commented on and the governor highlighted through his actions, we remain laser-focused with the governor’s office on the very critical and important testing to include serological testing that has been going on in this county.
Mayor Kerner: (30:44)
It’s not a surprise to me in any way that the members of this community have shown a positivity rate much lower than that to our neighbors to the south. That’s not because Broward or Miami-Dade is doing anything wrong, but there’s certainly a strong correlation statistically between urban populations and the positivity rate. We enjoy a smaller population here in Palm Beach County than our neighbors to the south and our efforts have borne that out that our positivity rate reflects the true commitment that we have to social distancing in this new world.
Mayor Kerner: (31:14)
Phase One is a small step. It’s measured but it’s a large step for this community. It’s a large step for recovering our economy. It’s a large step to putting people back to work and our friends and family getting back together in a safe, measured and methodical way. Governor, I want to take a special moment as a former police officer to thank you for the announcement of this new testing, antibody testing lane that will be made available to the police officers, our firefighters and healthcare workers who have led in the face of this pandemic. We appreciate your leadership, governor. It’s been an honor to serve on your task force and particularly the way that you have taken a methodical approach to this pandemic, putting public health and safety first but embracing an economic return that is safe and measured. Palm Beach County is proud to lead the way in south Florida. I have no doubts that we will continue to make the state proud. We keep the those that are suffering, those that have passed away in our thoughts and prayers but I believe under this governor and the leadership of this county and with the backing of our people, that we have found a balance that shows that we can accomplish both missions at the same time.
Mayor Kerner: (32:23)
Governor, again, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for joining us here today and for allowing us to authorize into Phase One. Palm Beach County is well-prepared.
Mayor Kerner: (32:32)
Thank you, governor.
Ron DeSantis: (32:35)
Also, we’ll just point out one of the things that we’re really concerned about going forward is small businesses. At the beginning of this, we obviously saw as the country was shutting down, there was going to be problems. Congress was debating doing this PPP program. We did at the state level of $50 million bridge loan program. That was done pretty quickly. PPP then came online, people were applying for it, ran out of money, Congress did more. I think it’s run out again and I think what we’ve seen is there’ve been some larger companies that have gotten millions and millions of dollars from that. But a lot of our smaller businesses who really, if they just had 30, 40, 50,000 to meet payroll, some of these other things, that may be the difference of them going out of business or being able to bounce back. So we are actively looking to see who has not been received any type of assistance.
Ron DeSantis: (33:34)
I’m seeing what we could do at the state level, particularly for the smaller businesses because my fear is if they don’t remain solvent, then they just may not come back. So it’s a big concern of ours and I would just say for some of these big companies that took millions and millions of PPP money, you really should return that and let the small businesses have it because there are some businesses that took it who never even closed this whole time. Obviously the economy has taken a hit here. I get that but some of these businesses were forced to to remain in that, to be inactive, so it’s just not fair.
Ron DeSantis: (34:11)
The other thing I I am mindful of is throughout this whole process, it’s been very difficult on family members of those who’ve fallen and not just with COVID, really any disease because of the restrictive and understandably restrictive policies that that the hospitals have put in, you have people who have been in really bad shape who weren’t allowed to have visitors. You have COVID patients who weren’t allowed to have family there or even potentially in some of their last days. That is really, really a significant blow to people and I for nursing homes, we’ve not allowed the visitors. It’s been two months. We’ve got to figure out a way to get that done safely. I don’t think we’re there yet but I am mindful of we’re protecting a longterm care facility, which we should do. You have residents there who really would like to see some of their loved ones. Maybe it’s rapid tests. Maybe it’s PPE, but I’ve asked folks to look at that and figure out if there could be a way forward that would reunite families in some of these difficult situations.
Ron DeSantis: (35:18)
With that, I’m happy to take some questions. So 1.1 billion in the last six weeks and most of that was since we fixed the system, or at least got it up off the mat. There’ve been almost 500,000 individual claimants who’ve been paid. Yesterday, there were 150,000 payments made.
Ron DeSantis: (36:03)
So what I would say is I’ve had a lot of questions from media saying, “Hey, this person has said this, that.” The agency will reach out and look at these cases and we’re happy to do it. But I could tell you is at least the ones that have been in the press, a lot of times when the agency looks, there’s not a social security number or there’s some type of problem with the application or maybe they’re just not eligible for unemployment. So there’s a process that people go through. You’ve got to have a social security number. If you have out of state wages, then you’re not going to be eligible. You have to have the actual information about your job. So I would just tell people make sure that you do that because if it’s incomplete, it’s not going to get processed.
Ron DeSantis: (36:42)
Sometimes it’s just an oversight. Look, the system I know was hard to get on and all this stuff. So to make sure the application is complete. And then if you do not qualify for unemployment, there is, under some of the federal legislation that’s recently passed, there are some avenues of relief for people that don’t qualify for state unemployment, don’t qualify for federal Cares Act unemployment. There’s still some pandemic assistance. We just got that money from the federal government very recently. Those are now going to start to be processed.
Ron DeSantis: (37:15)
And so for those who don’t qualify, you do that. But I’ve had them really working around the clock on it. We’ve made some progress, but I want more progress because now’s the time we really want people to have the money. I mean, I’m hoping that we look a month down the road and a lot of people will be back to work, but we’re not there yet. And people need the relief. So we’re going to continue to work very hard on this. I’m not taking any resources away from the reemployment. We’re going to continue to have the resources there to be able to process as many of these as we can. So we consulted, when Palm Beach came to us, we consulted with Broward and Dade to see whether they were ready or not. And I think that there was a sense that they needed a little more time to be ready to reopen. And I think that that’s fine. We want them to do it in a way that’s going to be successful, that’s going to be smart, it’ll be step-by-step. But we really want people to have confidence in what’s going on. And I know this has been kind of a traumatic time for a lot of folks. I know there was a, you go in the middle of March, I mean there was a major hysteria. This is a serious issue, don’t get me wrong, but I think dealing with it in a cool, calm and collected way makes more sense. So I think people understand kind of where we’ve gone through this.
Ron DeSantis: (38:49)
There was a lot of doomsday predictions for Florida. Those have not born out. We’ve done a lot better than people thought we would. The job isn’t finished. There’s going to be more challenges. But I think having a very clear step by step approach. I think both of those counties have been very thoughtful about how they’re going to move forward. Our target for them, we’d like to see them move into phase one on the 18th, but that’s going to be dependent on if they continue to go. In fairness, they have trended in good directions. If you look at the hospitalizations in Miami Dade, the people on ventilators now compared to where we were three weeks ago, obviously there’s been a decline. You see Broward, you have seen a decline. Their positivity is now below 10% in Broward County. I think they’re 9% for all the positivity, and the more recent cases have been down, so there are definitely good trends, but they also had to deal with an epidemic that was more pervasive than other parts of the state.
Ron DeSantis: (39:45)
And we kind of knew that going in. That’s why we sent so many resources initially. But I think you had a lot, you had international travel, but mainly from the New York City area that seeded it. So it made it more difficult, but I think that they’ve done a good job. And I think mayor Jimenez has got a task force in place. They’ve got a lot of good ideas. He’s been very thoughtful about it. The local leadership in Broward, same way. Those are both really important communities for the state of Florida to get back on its feet. You look, you go back two months, you could not drive around Miami without seeing a crane somewhere. I mean it was on fire. Things were great. You look at Broward, how they did Spirit Airlines, all this stuff that was going on there.
Ron DeSantis: (40:27)
A lot of great stuff. They’re major economic engines for the state of Florida. I think they can get back, but we want to do it in a way. The smarter and safer you are and methodical, I think the easier you are going to be able to get where you need to go. So it’s not set in stone that they have to do it. I’m not going to push them out the door to do it. We’re going to collaborate and really I think have a good meetings of the mind because I think that’s the way to do it. You’ve got to work together with folks on the local level. We’ve been that way from the beginning on this. We approach Southeast Florida different than the panhandle. A lot of people didn’t like that at the time. But if you look, that was the right approach, how the Panhandle’s done. We didn’t need to do some of the things that needed to be done in Southeast Florida, so that’s how we’re going to keep going. Collaborative, bottom up.
Speaker 5: (41:15)
Do you think it’s safe to lump Palm Beach County and with Miami Dade and Broward? And should we have gone to phase one in Palm Beach County when the rest of the state did?
Ron DeSantis: (41:27)
No, I think that if you looked at Palm Beach’s numbers, I think they were probably better than Dade and Broward, but compared to Orange County, Hillsborough, Duvall, they were definitely a tick above that. I mean Duvall County is now 3% positive on their cases. I think they’re down to nine or 10 people on ventilators out of a million people in the County. If you look at Orlando numbers, very low. Hillsborough has been incredibly low the whole time. There was a nursing home problem where people have now been hospitalized, so it’s increased the numbers. But that was a discreet issue and Mary is working on addressing that with the corporate leadership of that facility. So you look at it, it was just those areas clearly were good for phase one. I thought Palm Beach could have done it, but we consulted and felt that this was kind of the way to go. So I think that they’re going to be in good shape going forward, and I think that it was that.
Ron DeSantis: (42:24)
So we haven’t lumped them now because we’re going on the data, we’re listening to the local officials and listening to the community. They want to take the step. I agree. I have confidence that they can take the step. So we are where we are. Look, I think that a place like Palm Beach, we go about it right, we focus on safety, we’re very thorough, they’re going to really be able I think to take off just because you got a lot of great stuff going on in this community. And with the beaches, I just think it’s important to point out because there was so much media criticism out of state about Florida having anybody on a beach throughout this whole time, I mean basically what I said was don’t have big groups. But if you want to walk your dog, you want to run, that’s fine. And local communities can make the decisions how they want to. But like a Bravard County, they kept access the whole time. They limited parking, they did things to enforce social distancing. It was all fine. They’ve got 600,000 people in the county.
Ron DeSantis: (43:23)
As of last night, they had eight total fatalities from COVID. Duvall opened their beaches for recreation three weeks ago. And all these out-of-state media was saying this was going to be the end of the world. Well you look at the different figures, and I was in a Duvall earlier today, but you look at the different figures about what’s happened in Duvall, their patients on ventilators over the last three weeks are down 47%, ICU patients down 61%, overall COVID hospitalizations down 30%. I raise that point just to say that you can do things and not create major outbreaks. And I think what we’ve learned about this, and I think what the mayor did in Palm Beach there with the recreation is really, really smart because they’re taking the data that we’ve been able to observe with COVID-19, and I think it’s pretty clear that this is a disease that spreads when you’re in close, repeated contact with somebody in an enclosed environment.
Ron DeSantis: (44:21)
That’s how it most easily spreads. Now, it could spread outside if we’re really close and all that, but in these outdoor open space environments, you’ve just had less transmission and less evidence of outbreaks. And so in Florida, we have an opportunity to use that to our advantage. That’s one of the reasons with the restaurants, we said do outdoor seating, have the spacing, but if you’re outdoors, we really believe the data shows that that’s less risky. You’ve had some communities in Florida actually shut down the street where you have restaurants and they’re putting more tables out in the street outside so that people can do it. I think that that reduces the risk. If you look at the places that have had major outbreaks, whether it was the funeral in Albany, Georgia, they’re packed into a church. People are hugging and kissing, crying, very emotional, a lot of close contact. Man, that thing spread like wildfire.
Ron DeSantis: (45:13)
You look at some of the nursing home outbreaks throughout the country. It can spread like wildfire. The choir in Washington state where they were singing close together, and the droplets from just talking and singing would go major spread and a super spreader. You’ve seen different things, business conferences. That, we understand how the virus transmit most readily, but to take advantage of having some of the beautiful outdoors like we have in Florida, again, as long as you’re not in big groups, as long as you’re maintaining social distance, I think it’s a very low risk place to be.
Ron DeSantis: (45:46)
So we look forward to doing the serological testing here tomorrow. This is just the start of antibody testing. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of tests that have been ordered on top of the 200,000 we have already. What I would like to do is have all the major population centers partner with universities and do scientifically representative samples for antibodies. And so if you have Palm Beach, if they partner with Florida Atlantic, you would be able to identify with a scientifically valid sample the prevalence of the antibodies in Palm Beach, and then what we could do is compare that to the number of identified positive tests.
Ron DeSantis: (46:27)
Obviously it will be a lot more. And then you can get a sense of, okay, how prevalent was the disease? What percentage of people didn’t even show symptoms? What’s the true hospitalization rate and the true infection fatality rate? So I think that that’s really, really useful information and we have the test to be able to do it. So it’s just a matter of getting a local partnership in order, having the universities work and set it up. And you could probably run through these tests in two or three days if you really worked at it. So we want to do it in Palm Beach, we’re going to do it in Broward, Miami already did one with the University of Miami. But this is really, really important as we continue to get more data and facts about this disease. Thanks everybody.