Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed a continued rise in confirmed coronavirus cases after the state reopened by saying Friday that as testing increases, more asymptomatic younger people are driving up positive results.
He also hinted that recent protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota might drive up positive tests, and said some people have started to disregard advice to wear masks, social distance and avoid large crowds.
“You’re going to find more asymptomatic cases. As you test more, you find more. And that’s basically been something we believed from the beginning,” DeSantis said. “We’re testing more than 30,000 a day, you’re going to see us identify more than 2,000 cases.”
Florida has had nearly 90,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, resulting in more than 3,100 deaths.
The state has allowed bars, restaurants and some theme parks to reopen, and since then cases have spiked. On Friday, the state announced 3,822 new confirmed cases, the highest daily total since the pandemic started. The seven-day averages of positivity rates has nearly doubled in the past week, from about 4% to about 8%.
DeSantis said more than 60% of the new infections over the past week were people under 45 years old and that the median age of people testing positive had declined dramatically to 37.
Many of those getting tested presented no symptoms and some were doing it as part of employment-related screenings or after learning they could have been exposed because testing is easier and more widely available, DeSantis said. But he also blamed part of the recent spike on people's behavior.
“I think that we've started to see some erosion on social distancing from probably some of the younger population,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the Florida Department of Health has not substantiated that protests over the death of Floyd, an African American man who died while a white police officer had his knee on his neck, have driven up cases. But the governor said he suspected it may have contributed to more virus cases.
“Obviously there’s a correlation there, but I wouldn’t want to say that until we have the evidence,” DeSantis said. “You had massive demonstrations of people ... and all of a sudden the social distancing took a back seat to social justice.”
Hospitalization rates have risen, although more slightly, but the governor and other health care executives said the state continues to have available beds to care for those who require treatment and for procedures not related to COVID-19.
Officials said the Department of Health will begin a media campaign to remind people to wash their hands, wear masks and socially distance. DeSantis said he believed in “voluntary compliance," maintaining that adopting statewide mandates for wearing masks was up to local governments.
The mayor of Miami-Dade County, which has the highest number of cases, said he worried about Father's Day celebrations this weekend, and said police would be shutting down places and businesses violating capacity restrictions and mask-wearing rules. But, he said, he had no plans to order wide closures like those issued in March based on current infection numbers.
“It would have to get a heck of a lot worse for us to take a step back,” Carlos A. Gimenez said.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.