‘We are where we are’: Gov. DeSantis says Florida not moving to next phase as coronavirus cases increase

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked to address coronavirus concerns while visiting Tampa on Thursday to sign another education bill.

The governor visited Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School to sign a bill expanding options for students when it comes to school choice and school vouchers. It’s the second education bill he’s signed in as many days after Wednesday’s bill to increase teacher salary.

After signing the bill, DeSantis opened up the floor for questions and was immediately asked about the state’s coronavirus situation. His visit comes as coronavirus cases throughout Florida continue to spike. The state reported more than 5,000 new cases of the virus on Thursday for the second day in a row.

The Tampa Bay area has also seen a spike in cases and outbreaks. We’ve heard from dozens of restaurants in our area that have had to close back up temporarily due to cases among staff.

“We’re not forcing them to do it,” Gov. DeSantis said when asked if he took responsibility for businesses closing again. “If that’s the choice they make then they’re making it. I think folks have been following the guidelines, people have been able to do it in ways that are low-risk.”

The governor was also asked about Texas Gov. Greg Abbot’s response to the recent spike of cases in his state. Abbot announced this week he’s pausing his state’s reopening.

“We are where we are. I didn’t say we’re going onto the next phase. We’ve done a step-by-step approach and it’s an approach that’s been reflective of the unique situation of each area,” DeSantis said. “We never anticipated doing anything different in terms of the next phase, at this point, anyways. So we are where we are.”

The governor noted that he thinks everyone has to acknowledge that Florida saw a low number of cases when the state first started reopening in May and overall had a quiet month.

“Then you got into Memorial Day, you had a lot of protests for two weeks and (coronavirus) kind of fell off the front pages and I think folks thought, ‘hey let’s move onto the next thing,'” DeSantis said. “I think we know it’s not something that just goes away, it’s something that you’ve gotta understand, you gotta live with. And I’m confident if people follow guidelines…you can do things in a low-risk way.”

Local health officials in Hillsborough County have also voiced concerns over ICU bed capacity and the percent positivity of cases increasing. Dr. Douglas Holt, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said Thursday Hillsborough has doubled its cases in less than two weeks and positivity rate has shown a significant increase.

“You are seeing infection – the positivity rate grow, which obviously we want to turn that in the other direction,” DeSantis said. “But some of what you’re seeing is this is mass testing regardless of symptoms.”

The governor said most of the people testing positive now are asymptomatic. Back in March and April, anyone who wanted to get tested needed to have symptoms in order to do so.

Even though testing is much more widespread now in Florida, 8 On Your Side has still heard from viewers who have struggled to find a test – especially now that the demand to get tested is skyrocketing.

Investigative reporter Mahsa Saedi took those concerns to the governor on Thursday. He told us the state is going to do more, specifically in Pinellas County.

“BayCare is going to do a site at Tropicana Field. So we’re going to support if they need swabs, if they need support we’re going to do that,” DeSantis said. “And also some of our other drive-thru sites, we’ve expanded the lanes so people can get through.”

DeSantis said the demand for testing has boomed recently compared to what it was in previous months.

“I was going around in mid-late March begging people to get tested because we didn’t have a lot of traffic going through these sites,” he said. “And now obviously because it’s more prevalent – in the news, in particular – people want (to get tested) which is a good thing. So we are expanding capacity at our existing sites, we will support the Pinellas County tests. And if they need to do more at Raymond James, we’re happy to do that.”

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