ST. PETERSBURG — Five Florida mayors on Wednesday said they were extremely concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state, and begged Gov. Ron DeSantis to change his approach to the virus in hopes of slowing the spread.
Following a monthslong decline from its huge summer spike in the outbreak, Florida has seen a mid-autumn climb in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Still, the governor has resisted a return to statewide restrictions in place earlier in the year.
“What Florida is doing right now isn’t working,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, during a sharply worded news conference on Zoom. “We’re failing pretty horribly … Positive cases are rising steeply and it’s spreading everywhere. We don’t believe it’s going to change unless we do something different.””
Over the past week, Florida averaged more than 6,500 newly reported cases per day, a steady increase since numbers of about 2,250 at the start of October. Hospitalizations have gone from between 2000 and 2,200 for most of October to more than 3,500 on Wednesday, according to a state online census of hospitals.
The seven-day average of reported deaths is about 62, up from 54 a week earlier. That compares to a peak of 185 in early August. A total of 17,861 people have died.
Gelber was joined by the mayors of Hialeah, Miami Shores Village, Sunrise, and St. Petersburg. The group called for consistency in statewide regulations and made four specific recommendations:
1. Implement a statewide mask mandate;
2. Allow cities and counties to be able to enhance local measures, such as additional penalties for not wearing masks;
3. Restore state testing facilities to full capacity;
4. Beef up contact tracing and use a Covid tracking app developed by Google and Apple.
All of the mayors said they share the governor’s goal in keeping the economy open.
“We understand the economic impact that potentially some of these orders could have but we’re also trying to look at this from a long term basis as opposed to short term.” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “If we don’t deal with this now, the economic catastrophe that we are facing will be worse if we have to go to a complete shut down.”
Said Miami Shores Village Mayor Crystal Wagar: “Give us the tools we need, to get to the vaccine with the fewest deaths.”
The mayors were especially concerned about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Families want to gather, they said, and folks come to Florida from the north.
“I am so fearful,” said Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez.
It’s unclear what, if anything, DeSantis will do in the wake of these recommendations. On Sept. 25, DeSantis signed an executive order that prevented municipalities from fining people for violating a mask ordinance and has stated that he’s not going to have any more lockdowns.
On Wednesday, DeSantis tweeted that he met with Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar this week to talk about distribution of a vaccine. “We also discussed the availability of the new monoclonal antibody treatment & the promising prospects of this new therapeutic,” he wrote.
Florida’s education commissioner on Wednesday gave some sign of flexibility at the state level with the difficult situation. Richard Corcoran said during a state Board of Education meeting in Tallahassee that students will be allowed to attend classes online through the end of the school year due to the pandemic.
The state’s K-12 pandemic plan for the second semester of classes will be laid out in a new emergency order, probably before Thanksgiving, Corcoran said.
“I think we are on a pretty good schedule to get that done,” Corcoran said.
While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.