Coronavirus in Florida: As cases continue to rise, supplies remain an issue

Jeffrey Schweers
USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau

As the tally of infected, hospitalized and dead from coronavirus continues to rise in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state's top administrators have focused on testing, getting supplies and making sure hospitals have enough beds to meet the coming surge.

One thing DeSantis is not doing: Handing down a statewide stay-at-home order, despite the recommendation of public health officials and the urging of some state politicians, and despite the pleas of an epidemiologist whose work was cited by President Trump Sunday.

Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health, was part of a team of scientists whose model forecast 82,000 deaths by August if stronger social distancing wasn't enforced.

The study was cited by President Trump as reason he extended the federal shutdown to April 30.

Mokdad, as first reported by The Miami Herald, urged state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to convince DeSantis to issue a statewide order to stay at home.

But DeSantis didn't seem swayed.

"No matter what you do, you are gonna have a number of folks who do whatever the hell they want," DeSantis said Tuesday, at his first open news conference that employed social distancing. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Meeting Room in the Capitol, with seats spread six feet apart.

Flying down to South Florida Monday, DeSantis answered his own question — "damn right" — about seeing crowds of people on beaches that were supposedly shut down.

He also said the President's Task Force on the Coronavirus had not recommended to him to order a statewide shutdown: "Obviously that would carry a lot of weight with me," DeSantis said. 

That doesn't mean he is waiting on orders from the White House.

"If any of the task force members recommend X,Y or Z, I would consider it," DeSantis said, adding he would have to weigh how the recommendation fits into his strategy.

An aerial view shows a deserted beach resort in Windley Key, some 70 miles south of Miami, on March 22, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. The Florida Keys have closed down to visitors. Heavily relying on tourism, at the peak of high season, Florida's most southern holiday islands have been forced to shut down hotels amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twelve counties have issued stay-at-home orders, including the four-county South Florida area of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe. DeSantis unified their individual directives under an executive order that requires people to stay at home, shuts down nonessential business and travel, and shutters vacation rentals.

The region has Florida's densest population, as well as international flights and passenger cruise ships, and a large elderly population that is most susceptible to the coronavirus.

And with an increase in testing, DeSantis said, those areas are seeing an increase in positive cases, which is all the more reason to clamp down in those communities and enforce social distancing.

He said a new mass drive-through testing site is opening in Palm Beach County, following the opening of a site in Miami-Dade County, so an increase in test results can be expected. They join sites in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Broward County. 

The state has 2,000 test kits that can process a sample in 45 minutes, but the results still must go to the state Department of Health or U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in front of Hard Rock Stadium, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want the people on the Holland America's Zandaam where four people died and others are sick to be treated in Florida, saying the state doesn't have the capacity to treat outsiders as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.

On Tuesday, the number of positive cases of coronavirus in Florida surpassed the 6,000 mark, with 6,741 positive cases reported out of 61,802 tested to date. Of that number, 857 have been hospitalized and 85 are dead.

In the U.S., there were over 164,000 cases and more than 3,000 dead from the coronavirus as of Tuesday morning.

States are competing with each other for protective gear and masks. Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz has resorted to Twitter to ask for supplies, most importantly the N95 masks that filter out airborne particles that can carry the coronavirus.

Moskowitz has said the private market for N95 masks right now is like "a Ponzi scheme."

"Different distributors represented by brokers selling the same lot of masks bidding against each other," he posted on Twitter, replying to a question by entrepreneur, investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. "I'm chasing ghosts."

DeSantis on Tuesday said the competition for protective gear was particularly cut-throat, likening it to "kabuki." Several studies have shown that both Florida and the nation face a dire shortage of hospital beds if stricter social distancing is not enforced.

President Trump, meanwhile, said the nation could see 100,000 deaths or more from coronavirus in the coming months, extending a nationwide voluntary stay-in-place order through April 30.

Despite the urging of public health officials and politicians, DeSantis has resisted the call to issue a statewide shutdown as he tries to balance the dire need for public safety with avoiding economic collapse.

"Some of these businesses if they close for a month they just ain't coming back," DeSantis said.

The governor has ordered statewide lockdowns of bars and nightclubs, restricted restaurants to takeout only, issued a vacation rental ban, and banned visits to nursing homes. He left it to locals, however, to decide whether to order people to stay home, shut down non-essential businesses and keep beaches, recreation areas and boat ramps and docks open.

A medical worker walks out of a Coronavirus screening tent set up outside the emergency room at White Plains Hospital  March 21, 2020.

The executive order he issued Monday for four South Florida counties only lasts two weeks, but can be renewed if circumstances warrant. Studies and projection models suggest the situation will warrant further isolation.

A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicts that Florida will begin seeing a hospital bed shortage in two weeks, and face a peak shortage of 843 intensive care unit hospital beds on May 3.

The state will need 2,538 beds on that day, but only 1,695 will be available. The shortage is expected to last until May 16. 

At a news conference in West Palm Beach, DeSantis said two field hospitals have been set up. He also has asked state health officials to scour the state for empty or underused hospital buildings that can be used if needed.

“That’s something that we’re monitoring on an hourly basis and we’ve made a lot of contingency plans,” DeSantis said of the hospital bed situation.

Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report. Contact Jeff Schweers at and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

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