Gov. Ron DeSantis called on healthcare executives and experts Friday to address the increase in coronavirus cases the state has reported over the last two week crediting the increase to mostly young and healthy individuals.
The takeaway from the governor’s news conference is that he is not concerned about the spike in cases because the average age of the disease in Florida has significantly dropped. Over the past week, Florida has repeatedly reported thousands of new cases a day and on Friday more than 3,800.
The median age of a positive coronavirus case in Florida is 37 as of last week, according to the Department of Health. In Orange, Duval, Broward and Hillsborough counties the median age is between 29-33.
“This week, which (there) have been increased cases, that median age is plunging even further,” DeSantis said from the Florida International University Friday.
Speaking to the increase in younger cases, DeSantis said most have “minimal or zero symptoms, that’s a little bit different from what we did at the beginning of the pandemic.”
According to the Department of Health, 86% of the state’s 3,104 fatalities due to the virus are over 65 years old.
To combat the increase in younger infections, the governor said the state’s health department would conduct more outreach to encourage people to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“I think that we’ve started to see you know some erosion in the social distancing from probably some of the younger population,” DeSantis said, adding in response, “The Department of Health is going to be launching some public service announcements, reminding folks of some of the things that you can do, I mean if you’re just a normal, healthy, younger individual doing things like frequent hand washing and sanitation, staying home, social distancing and wearing a mask.”
When asked if recent mass protests across the state in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody in May, DeSantis said the evidence doesn’t support that yet.
“I certainly have not had my Department of Health substantiate that the protests are driving the figures with the younger people. I mean obviously there’s a correlation there but I wouldn’t want to say that until you actually had the had the evidence,” DeSantis said. “So the thing is from a public health perspective, you may think that protest is the most important thing you could do as a citizen, I respect that.”
The governor called on several hospital executives, South Florida leaders and state medical officials to reiterate that hospitals have plenty of beds and ventilators available.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said reports of hospital bed shortages are “grossly exaggerated.”
“We have 644 people with COVID-19 in the hospitals today 121 of them are in ICU and 523 are in critical care beds or lesser beds, and we only have 60 people in Miami Dade County that are on ventilators right now,” Giménez said. “So none of these numbers are alarming.”
Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew praised the collaboration among hospitals in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties, where a majority of the state’s cases have been reported.
Mayhew said hospitals have “an incredible ability to rapidly increase their capacity” if needed. Currently in Florida, there are 15,000 open beds state-wide.
“The trends are absolutely favorable,” Mayhew said.
Meanwhile, leaders in Florida cities and counties, including Orange County are taking new steps to prevent the spread of the virus. All residents in Orange County will be required to wear face coverings when out in public beginning this weekend. Tampa’s mayor enacted a similar measure and Hillsborough County officials will discuss doing so next week.
When asked if he would implement a similar face mask measure state-wide DeSantis said he would leave that up to local leaders.
Since March 1, more than 3,100 Floridians have died as a result of COVID-19 complications. The state is approaching 90,000 confirmed cases over the same period.
Check back for updates on this developing story.