May 18, 2020
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis May 18 COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a coronavirus press conference on Monday, May 18. Florida is moving into a ‘full phase one’ reopening today, and DeSantis opened the door to the return of vacation rentals.
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Ron DeSantis: (00:00)
… this posture of fighting the coronavirus, obviously that impacted our economy in significant ways. One of the ways you saw that was a significant reduction in traffic on our roads You saw it in Central Florida, you saw it in other parts of the state. I viewed that as an opportunity for the state of Florida to get ahead on some of our transportation and infrastructure projects, and so in April, I directed the Florida Department of Transportation to utilize this opportunity with less traffic on the roads and accelerate numerous projects, including the very important I-4 Ultimate Project.
Ron DeSantis: (00:38)
I wanted to ensure that we maximize construction efforts to support Florida’s economy and ensure that Florida was able to reopen stronger than before. Many States throughout the country, they stopped all construction. They stopped manufacturing as well. I think that was a big mistake. We did not do that in Florida. We kept construction going. We knew you could do it safely. This is an example of taking advantage of that by using construction.
Ron DeSantis: (01:07)
FDOT worked very hard. They understood that they had a window here to really make a difference, and so just last week FDOT announced that it’s accelerated more than 40 projects across the state, which will eliminate more than 650 total contract days. Today, I’m pleased to announce the completion of the I-4 and state road 408 interchange; five new flyover ramps that together composed the most impactful portion of the I-4 Ultimate Project. Today’s ramp openings come more than three months ahead of schedule; and not only that, but even when I accelerated it, today’s opening is six weeks sooner than even we anticipated in April. I think that that’s a testament to what FDOT has been able to do. Now this 408 exchange is the busiest portion of the I-4 Ultimate Project. These improvements will increase safety, ease the movement of commerce and, most importantly, enhance Central Floridians commutes as we transition back to a fully-functioning economy.
Ron DeSantis: (02:17)
Beyond the 408 interchange, FDOT was also able to move a large portion of westbound general use lanes into their final configuration. Since April, just over a month ago, FDOT has utilized lane closures on I-4 and various ramp closures to accelerate work on the westbound general use lanes. Work completed includes permanent drainage installation, roadway widening, new ramp construction and the placement of bridge girders in the following areas: I-4 between SR436 to North SR434, I-4 between Kennedy Boulevard and just west of Lee Road, and I-4 between Fairbanks Avenue and Princeton Street, as well as I-4 between SR50 Colonial Drive and South Street.
Ron DeSantis: (03:06)
We announced five locations of acceleration that we could guarantee when we made the announcement in April. FDOT’s actually been working at over 12 locations with extended lane and ramp closures. This work has shorten construction by between one and two months in key areas.
Ron DeSantis: (03:23)
Now, the accelerated construction is important. It’s expected to generate 14.5 million in benefits to Central Floridians and to the state in general. This is a result of reduced delays, improved travel time and reduced reduce traffic crashes from the improved corridor, all of which have economic benefits to the region and to the state. Accelerating the 408 interchange construction has also helped sustain more than 1500 jobs directly associated with the I-4 Ultimate Project. This is a testament to FDOT’s commitment and the hard work and determination of the construction industry in our state.
Ron DeSantis: (04:03)
Now, upon completion of the I-4 Ultimate Project, 15 interchanges will be rebuilt. As of now, the major interchanges at Kirkman Road and Maitland Boulevard have already been placed and have their final configuration and a whole new overpass at Grand National Drive has opened, connecting area attractions, hotels, restaurants, and commercial establishments. This is in addition to 13 miles of reconfigured general use lanes in the eastbound direction that have been opened to traffic already improving daily commutes. Now some construction continues, but travel times have improved.
Ron DeSantis: (04:38)
We have in Central Florida, 2.5 million residents in the greater Orlando area. It’s grown by more than 20%, just in the last 10 years, one of the top-10 fastest growing regions in the country. It’s, of course, the top tourist destination in the world. It’s vital to Florida’s economy because of our venues, our attractions and our resorts. Transportation is going to be important as Central Floridians get back to work.
Ron DeSantis: (05:09)
When Walt Disney chose the location to build the Magic Kingdom, he did so to its close proximity to I-4 turnpike interchange, so having the right infrastructure really does create a foundation for future growth. Obviously we’ve seen that with the theme parks.
Ron DeSantis: (05:28)
Through I-4 Ultimate 21 miles of interstate are being completely transformed with 2.4 billion investment in Central Florida’s future. This is no simple feat. This is heavy and complex construction, and I’m very much proud of FDOT’s work and appreciate the patience of so many people throughout Central Florida. This was a very trying time, a lot of uncertainty. When I called Kevin in, I said, “We’ve got to take advantage of this.” He said, “All right, let me make a plan.” Came back with a plan and not only here, but you see other major projects throughout the state, in the Tampa/St. Pete area, Miami, these are things that are being moved ahead of schedule, and that’s going to benefit folks on their daily commute.
Ron DeSantis: (06:15)
This FDOT project is done just in time as today, we move into what I’m calling “The full Phase One of Florida’s safe, smart, step-by-step plan for recovery.” When we announced the initial plan in April, we said we wanted to make sure that we were proceeding very methodically, driven by data and making sure that things were going to be able to go as smoothly as possible. We deliberately did not exhaust all the options that were outlined in Phase One of the White House’s guidance.
Ron DeSantis: (06:49)
Last week, I announced that starting today, we would move forward with more of that Phase One in place in Florida. Our restaurants have been operating with outdoor seating with the social distance, and then 25% of indoor capacity. Today, they will now be able to continue with the outdoor seating, but then go up to 50% indoor capacity, of course, with the proper distancing precautions. Retail establishments increased as well for their indoor capacity. Gyms and fitness centers, now they’re subjected to strict sanitation protocols, but those are allowed to be reopened today in the state of Florida. I think that that’s going to be a relief for a lot of people that have wanted to get back in the gym, so we’re glad that that’s going on.
Ron DeSantis: (07:35)
I’ve made it very clear to a bunch of leagues and individual athletes and individual competition, Florida can be a venue. Obviously, we have our own teams. Those leagues are going to start, hopefully getting up and running again in the not too distant future. Any of those leagues that have teams in states that won’t allow that competition, we can find places here in Florida. I mean, you look at Orlando, there’s a football stadium right here that could host games. We believe that getting sports back online is important for kind of the nation’s mojo. We want to make sure that we’re doing our part here in Florida to be able to do it.
Ron DeSantis: (08:12)
We also, in our announcement for this full Phase One, have told our theme parks, submit plans for reopening, show us how you’re going to keep staff and people safe and then have the endorsement of the relevant local official or officials in your area. We’re happy to consider that as we go forward. When you open a theme park, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and three days later do it. No, they’re going to need a lot of runway to be able to know a date certain. I’m not saying this is going to happen tomorrow, but I think it is prudent to solicit these plans so that we know the direction that we’re going. But I think you’ve already seen some theme parks in other parts of the world open, and I know we are going to get that done here. It’s just a matter of at what time and what the schedule looks like. We also are telling the counties that these vacation rentals, if they have a plan and they want to submit, then we’re happy to look at that as well.
Ron DeSantis: (09:08)
What we’re looking at in terms of Phase One, if you look, those original Phase One counties, the data has been very, very strong throughout this period. If you look, today’s data, that’s going to be published today, statewide there was out of 24,000 tests about 700 new cases. That’s a 3.27% positivity rate statewide. But if you look at those original Phase One counties outside of the Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, that’s about a 2.4% positivity rate. That’s very, very low. That’s exactly what you want to see.
Ron DeSantis: (09:44)
The reports from yesterday, there were almost 30,000 test results that came in, almost 1,200 new cases. That was a 4.23% positivity, which is very low. But then as we looked in the numbers, we saw Miami had 500 cases reported. Miami at their peak had had 500, but more recently had been about 150. When they would go above that it was usually because of the Homestead Prison. We thought maybe that that was because of the prison outbreak. It turns out of the 500 cases reported yesterday from Miami, 400 of them were backlog cases from three weeks ago, from April 24th. There was this test center not affiliated with the state who had been running tests and they just now reported it. I think Miami’s trend has been good. Most of those cases, in fact, 80% of them were from three weeks ago that just now got reported. It’s important as you see this to look behind the numbers and identify.
Ron DeSantis: (10:43)
I think what we’ve seen is when you see numbers in any county kind of go out of what they’ve been trending., it’s usually a data dump with backlog tests, a prison outbreak, nursing home, or sometimes we’ll have new test sites that pop up and that you see a surge and then it dies down. We’re monitoring that. We’re continuing to do an awful lot with the longterm-care facilities. I really view that as the tip of the sphere going forward. I view it as a discrete problem. I don’t think it means that you can’t do things in society, but it does mean that we need to understand that those areas are still where the most vulnerable are at. We need to continue to keep our eye on the ball there, and we will do that.
Ron DeSantis: (11:28)
I want to let Secretary Thibault come up and say a few words, and then I’ll have a few more things and be able to answer any questions.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (11:39)
Thank you, Governor. Glad to be here today and glad to be able to follow into what your mission you gave us. In early April, you challenged the department to find ways to accelerate I-4 construction while there was less traffic on the road. I’m excited that we were able to open these critical components of the I-4 corridor to drivers several months ahead of schedule.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (12:00)
This is the biggest milestone of the project to date, and it will undoubtedly transform the heart of our state’s transportation system. Just a few benefits of this transformation include: Each interchange ramp will now have its own access point, reducing congestion and rapid lane changes in critical decision areas, increased capacity in the area, especially on ramps, making it less likely for backups from ramps to occur onto the main line, removes the old Trumpet exit that was there since the early 70s and required sudden slower exit speeds and a great amount of weaving. Ultimately, it will restore the fabric of the community once the full interchange is complete and the old interchange is removed. This includes the historic Paramour neighborhood that will be reconnected once again, once we remove those old ramps. Finally, this project enhances access to large venues, theme parks, and all other attractions that make Central Florida the amazing destination that it is.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (13:15)
As the governor mentioned, we knew that these interchange openings, as well as the significant portions of the westbound general use lanes, will improve travel times throughout this critical corridor. We anticipate this trend will further improve as the final section of the general use lanes, remaining interchanges and manage lanes comes online. As we move forward toward full project completion, safety will still remain our top priority along the corridor in coordination with all partners and stakeholders will certainly continue.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (13:51)
Taking a moment about partnerships, this project has had several significant partners that have brought it all together from its onset. One of those is the important partnership we have with the Central Florida Expressway Authority. We’re very pleased to be able to work with them to deliver this project. Together, we’ve been working not in silos but in a partnership to develop transportation solutions for the Central Florida community and look forward to doing that. We also will continue our significant coordination efforts up and down the 21-mile corridor, which occurred since the very beginning in 2013 and includes working with numerous local governments, law enforcement agencies and emergency responders to ensure the corridor has the most effective, efficient, and innovative measures to meet their needs.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (14:45)
Finally, Governor, I know there are no two people more thrilled about today’s event than you and me. I am grateful for your common sense approach to moving Florida forward during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to play a role in helping reopen Florida. We have always been committed to completing a safe corridor that also increases mobility to help people move people and goods across Central Florida and restores the community connectivity so important in today’s world. Today’s momentous acknowledgement and announcement undoubtedly helps us achieve these goals. Thank you very much, Governor.
Ron DeSantis: (15:30)
Well, we’re really thrilled about this. I think to be able to expedite and not only from what we had scheduled, but even once we said we wanted to expedite, having done it quicker than that is really, really good. I think it just shows FDOT being able to really get the job done. We’re going to continue with that. Really, I’m just looking forward to helping bring us back. Obviously, we still have issues with public health, that’s not going to go away. But I think we have a pathway to get Florida moving again. It is smart. It’s safe. It is step by step. It’s not just turning a switch. But I really believe that Central Florida can be a major driver in that, and having great infrastructure projects are part of it. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot more that hopefully will happen over the next days, weeks and months here.
Ron DeSantis: (16:18)
With that, happy to take some questions. Yes, sir?
Speaker 3: (16:21)
Ron DeSantis: (16:31)
I just couldn’t hear you? Yeah, take it off. Yeah.
Speaker 3: (16:34)
[inaudible 00:16:34] recorded recently that thousands of [inaudible 00:16:39] tests are suspect. They’re having to go back through them.
Ron DeSantis: (16:43)
Speaker 3: (16:43)
Is that a concern statewide?
Ron DeSantis: (16:46)
The question was about one of the healthcare systems reported that they had thousands of tests that they had sent to a lab, and basically I think the lab, they just got stuck in a warehouse. Now these tests have to be, like the samples have to be refrigerated, properly cared for. This is not just like sending a piece of paper. Apparently what happened was they figured out that this lab, I think it was in Texas, just let the samples be spoiled. They had thousands of samples. That was not from any of Florida’s test sites. We haven’t necessarily seen that happen with any of ours, but I’m glad that they said that that’s the case.
Ron DeSantis: (17:25)
Now, I think those tests were long enough ago that we would know any clinical significance of these test results by now. Part of the thing, I think that we’ve seen with this coronavirus is, and this is I think a fortunate thing, for the vast bulk of the population, particularly those under 50, our working-age population that don’t have significant health conditions, the clinical significance of this has been low. The hospitalization rate has been low. The fatality rate, fortunately, has been low. Florida, I think it shows that with this statistics. I don’t think that you have seen a lot of necessarily out of the ordinary clinical significance, but it does go to show we’re looking at expanding lab capacity even more than we already have. We’re going to be having high throughput labs at all of our state labs. But that company was actually one that Florida looked to potentially do business with. We never sent them any tests, but obviously after that, we’re not going to be doing business with them.
Speaker 4: (18:20)
Ron DeSantis: (18:20)
Speaker 4: (18:22)
Responding to your question, this morning I provided your office [inaudible 00:18:22] the names of nearly 5,000 Floridians who have filed in March and are still waiting-
Ron DeSantis: (18:32)
Did you vet any of them?
Speaker 4: (18:33)
We have provided names-
Ron DeSantis: (18:35)
Did you vet though? Do you know? Did they submit a valid social security number?
Speaker 4: (18:39)
We don’t have social security numbers. Are you still dismissing that people who filed [crosstalk 00:18:44]
Ron DeSantis: (18:43)
I’m not dismissing, but here’s the facts.
Speaker 4: (18:46)
What is the [crosstalk 00:18:46].
Ron DeSantis: (18:46)
Right now. Excuse me, excuse me. When you say I have somebody, the question is: Has that person completed the application?
Ron DeSantis: (18:54)
For example, we were in Tampa the other day and one of the reporters said, “I have someone here who hasn’t been able, filed in mid-March,” or whatever. I was like, “Give us the name.” We took the name and went and it turns out the employer’s contesting it, saying that the individual quit. All these have individual fact-specific stuff.
Ron DeSantis: (19:14)
Here’s what I can tell you, more than two-billion has now been paid out and of all the unique, complete and eligible applicants, 97% have now been paid. Unique applicant, valid application, eligible, 97% have been paid.
Ron DeSantis: (19:34)
What we’re going to do tomorrow is I’m going to take all the data, because we’re going to have even more good news from what was done yesterday, and we’re going to put that out and we’re going to show not only who’s all been paid, and then we’re going to go over the common pitfalls for people that have not been paid.
Ron DeSantis: (19:48)
But I think it’s your responsibility, if you’re representing that there’s someone in March who hasn’t been paid to tell your viewers whether that someone is a valid applicant or not. If someone applies and doesn’t support a social security number, guess what, federal, you can’t pay under those circumstances.
Speaker 4: (20:05)
Isn’t it your responsibility to tell us if they’re [inaudible 00:20:07] or not? [crosstalk 00:20:08]
Ron DeSantis: (20:08)
Right. No, no, no. Here’s the problem, you are not even investigating whether they’re valid claims. You’re just asserting that people have applied. I’m telling you that we have two-billion dollars in claims that have been paid. We have 97% of the unique, eligible, completed applications. The issue is they’re paid in the order they’re received. If you apply today, you’re not going to leapfrog someone that paid. They’re paid in the order that we receive. Those are just the facts. I know it’s like, to take an anecdote here, but I’m telling you, you got a responsibility. If you’re going to put that out to viewers to say that we’ve looked into it. The person submitted social security. The person is eligible. And not just say that, “Oh, someone said,” because you know what? Under normal circumstances, you have people who aren’t. I mean, we’re getting people from other countries applying. We’re getting people from other states applying. And so that all goes through the process.
Speaker 5: (21:04)
Sir, [inaudible 00:21:04] I-4 Ultimate [inaudible 00:21:08]. Okay, so you’ve gotten ahead of the game here, but I-4 Ultimate was already behind. What is the timeline now? Has the overall timeline for completion of the whole project changed?
Ron DeSantis: (21:21)
Have Kevin do it. Yeah.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (21:24)
Our goal since the very beginning is keeping the foot on the pedal and getting them to complete the project. Right now, as we saw some benefit with reduced traffic, they have made some tremendous progress. Again, we’re still pushing to, as we had said in our media release, that the end of this year, opening up the general use lanes, the interchanges that have, like this one, at the schedule of the end of the year, and then they’ll be able to finish their work next year. How many weeks and months? We’re going to see, we’re going to keep monitoring that. As we get closer, we’ll be able to get back with the media and tell them how much we were able to benefit from this opportunity.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (22:04)
Speaker 6: (22:04)
Broward County Mayor said they can’t [inaudible 00:22:08].
Ron DeSantis: (22:10)
South Florida, as you know, when we did Phase One, we viewed South Florida a little differently. They’re on a different schedule. They submitted to me last week plans for their kind of Phase One. Their plans did not include the gyms. They’re allowed to do it if they want, but I approved their plans as is. If they decide they want to do the gyms, they can do it, but we’ve worked with them throughout and really been collaborative.
Ron DeSantis: (22:35)
My view on all this is, look, you have to work together, local, state, federal. If we’re at loggerheads, it’s not going to work. Throughout the whole process, whether it’s Miami, Broward, Palm Beach, there were times when we were doing things together and if I were in their shoes, I may not have done 100%. But I think it’s better to just, let’s get on the same page and let’s go forward. That’s what we’ve tried to do. They didn’t want to do that yet, and so I gave them the freedom to be able to make those determinations. But I think you’re going to see them do that pretty quickly going forward. I think also because these gyms, I mean, they’re ready for sanitation. They understand the things that need to be done. I think that they’re really in a situation where their members want to get back in. It’s not like just the public crowds. I mean, these are people that actually pay to be members at these places. Hopefully that’ll come online soon. But I do think their epidemic was different.
Ron DeSantis: (23:30)
You may have seen some, there’ve been things that have come out recently about where did New Yorkers flee when the epidemic hit, and the number one state that they fled to, right here in the state of Florida. I quarantined them in March. Everyone, New York media, was blowing a gasket. “How could you do this?” That was the right decision. That was the number one landing pad. South Florida got inundated. Had we not done the quarantine, you would’ve had way more cases, hospitalizations, the whole nine yards. I have no doubt that that quarantine saved lives. I think it dissuaded some from coming down. But I think the ones that did, we were able to process and screen and I think it was effective. But South Florida has had to deal with some certain problems and I think they’ve done a really good job under the circumstances. Their schedule is a little bit different than the other 64 counties.
Speaker 7: (24:36)
On more question, Governor. [inaudible 00:24:36]
Ron DeSantis: (24:36)
Well, so what I said from the beginning is I’m not a doctor. I’ve had physicians say they’ve had positive clinical results. I think a lot of it is if you give it to someone that’s critically ill, it’s certainly isn’t going to help. It’s too late. If you do it early, they think it could help. I said, “Okay, if you guys think it could help.” I went, I talked to the president, we got supplies from India. I got some other, pushed it out. If they want to use it, they can use it. If they don’t, they don’t. But it wasn’t anything that we ever endorsed per se. But I actually still think you have physicians in Florida who are using it. I think you do have some that think it’s had some benefit, but it seems like it’s only beneficial if you get it early enough in the onset of disease. Once somebody is really critically ill and on a ventilator, it’s not clear that that’s the case.
Ron DeSantis: (25:20)
Now we’ve also put out this, the new drug that just came out from FDA. What’s the name of it? I forget. There’s so many of these things. But that came out, and that has mixed reviews too. We got a shipment, we’re putting it out. Hospitals can request for people that are on ventilators or in the intensive care unit, and they can use it as they see fit. I think, Oh, remdesivir. Remdesivir has mixed reviews. Some doctors think it’d be helpful. Some don’t. It’s really ultimately up to the doctor and the patient to make those decisions. If I have remdesivir available, I want to give the doctors the option for that just as we would do with the hydroxychloroquine.
Ron DeSantis: (26:02)
All right, well, this is exciting. Hopefully everyone will save some time on the roads and we’ll see you guys soon.
Secretary Kevin Thibault: (26:09)
Cut the ribbon.
Ron DeSantis: (26:09)
By the way-