Florida governor attributes increase in coronavirus infections to farm workers, long-term care facilities

Department of Agriculture says ‘Governor is mistaken,' majority of farm workers left weeks ago

Florida reported its highest rate of new coronavirus cases Friday since the pandemic first arrived in state, when asked about the increase in positive cases Gov. Ron DeSantis said there were several reasons including farm workers.

While health officials in Seminole and Orange counties have warned residents to be cautious because cases of the virus are increasing, the governor has not.

During a news conference in Miami Friday when asked about a possible spike in infections the governor said Florida has increased its testing criteria since March. Now anyone regardless of age, health risks or symptoms can be tested.

[RELATED: ‘It spreads because we let it:’ Seminole County officials report ‘disturbing’ spike in COVID-19 cases]

“I do think you’re starting to see more people in the public that are interested in getting tested so that is a good thing to be doing,” DeSantis said.

However, DeSantis also attributed the new cases to farm workers or long-term care facilities.

“I think the No. 1 outbreak we’ve seen is in the agriculture communities,” he said. “There was just a big case dump in North Central Florida there was a watermelon farm. You’ve had farm communities in Collier, Palm Beach, Martin, Levy, Hendry, and what happens is these are workers that are working close together once one gets it, it tends to spread very rapidly throughout those areas.”

DeSantis said the state is concerned about farm workers who begin to leave around this time of year for work in other states.

“We’re talking with some of the other states to let them know,” he said. “We also have our Department of Health is working with our agriculture, our growers to mitigate any of the spread.”

In response to the governor’s statements about farm worker infections, Department of Agriculture communications director Franco Ripple said in an email that Commissioner Nikki Fried has been in regular communication with Florida agricultural associations throughout the pandemic, including the Watermelon Association.

“However, the Governor is mistaken regarding agriculture being a main driver of COVID-19 in Florida. We’re seeing evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in areas where farms are located, but the vast majority of farmworkers left agricultural communities several weeks ago as harvests have ended,” Ripple wrote.

“Many areas where cases are spiking are in non-agricultural counties, such as Broward, Duval and Hillsborough,” Ripple said. “All have seen their highest positive case days in over a month.”

Lastly, Ripple said the Florida Department of Health has not communicated any specific concerns about the agriculture industry and coronavirus to the Department of Agriculture.

A review of the latest coronavirus data available from the Florida Department of Health shows those counties mentioned by the governor make up 17.7% of the overall new cases in the state from this week. For the past week, the state has reported about 1,000 new cases a day, on Friday the state reported its highest amount of new cases since the pandemic began with more than 1,900 new positive tests.

Here’s what the data shows the following counties reported from June 8 to June 11:

Collier County reported 223 new cases.

Hendry County reported 124 new cases.

Levy County reported 23 new cases.

Martin County reported 124 new cases.

Palm Beach County reported 752 cases.

Florida reported 7,033 new cases over a period of five days, the counties the governor mentioned make up 17.7% of new cases this week.

On April 23, Fried’s office sent a report to Florida’s Re-Open Task Force with recommendations to support Florida’s agriculture industry through the pandemic. That report can be found here.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Fried asked DeSantis to work with her office to ensure that personal protective equipment, healthcare and COVID-19 testing for farm workers is available. Ripple said DeSantis did not respond to those requests.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration is tracking COVID-19 infections, along with the DOH at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and long-term care facilities.

The most recent report on June 10 shows there are 1,571 residents who have the virus and 2,300 staff as facilities across the state.

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