Florida's Democratic congressional delegation blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis' response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying Tuesday that his refusal to issue statewide orders requiring masks and closing beaches is killing Floridians and spreading the disease.
They also called on the Republican governor to close gyms and bar inside dining at restaurants again. They said he has never met with a bipartisan congressional delegation to discuss the virus and his administration's order Monday requiring school districts to reopen classrooms this fall usurps local authority and endangers families.
“Our governor's behavior is reckless,” said Rep. Donna Shalala of Miami, who served as secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton. “This is not a partisan issue. Our governor is making decisions that affect whether Floridians live or die and his failure to lead is risking lives.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Broward County said during the conference call with reporters that DeSantis has failed to provide “honest, courageous leadership" and that he closed the economy too slowly when the virus outbreak began in March and reopened it too early in May, leading to the current spike in cases.
“The governor told us (Monday) the surge is stabilized with a straight face," she said. “This is a total gaslight of Florida residents and right in tune with his longstanding campaign of half-truths and mixed messages throughout this crisis.”
DeSantis has scheduled a press conference for later Tuesday in Miami but has said he believes mask orders should be left up to counties and cities, that what is right in Miami or Orlando is not necessarily needed in rural parts of the state. Many of the state's major metropolitan areas have issued orders requiring masks inside public buildings and some closed beaches over the July Fourth weekend.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, where the Republican Party moved next month's national convention because of social distancing requirements in North Carolina, Mayor Lenny Curry announced Tuesday that he and his family are in self-quarantine after he was exposed to someone who tested positive.
Curry said he has tested negative but his decision to self-quarantine with his family is “as a precaution for our friends, family and neighbors.”
The Democrats' call came shortly after the state confirmed 7,347 new cases Tuesday, bringing the total since March 1 to 213,794. Another 63 people died, bringing the total to 3,943. The 45 deaths per day averaged over the last week is a 50% jump since three weeks ago.
Florida has been averaging more than 8,500 new confirmed cases per day over the past week, almost eight times the average of a month ago. Only a fraction of that is caused by increased testing — over the past week, about 46,000 people per day are being tested, a 70% increase from a month ago.
The biggest factor is that the seven-day average for tests returning as positive has skyrocketed, jumping from 4% a month ago to almost 19% on Tuesday. In late May, not long after the state's economy began reopening, the positivity rate was 2.3%.
On Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to reopen classrooms in August, unless health officials deemed it unsafe to do so.
Distance learning would still be provided to students whose parents don't want them to return to their schools.
“There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride,” his order states.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, classrooms were shuttered in March and instruction offered virtually to the state’s 2.9 million pupils.
State officials hope that reopening campuses will help the economy for fully recover.
Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie said Tuesday that it is unrealistic for his district, the state's second-largest, to fully reopen this fall.
“We will never compromise the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff,” he said.
The Florida Education Association, the state teachers union, recently called on DeSantis to change how schools operate, including staggered schedules and imposing social distancing measures on buses and campuses.
The union also requested that schools test students for COVID-19 and put procedures in place to isolate those infected to prevent the virus from spreading.
Calvan reported from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.