coronavirus florida

Revisiting Gov. DeSantis' Oval Office Challenge 12 Weeks Later

One day before announcing he would reopen Florida's economy, Ron DeSantis sat with President Trump and touted the state's death and hospitalization rates compared to other states. Twelve weeks later, Florida is among the worst of all.

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As he sat in the Oval Office next to President Trump on April 28, Gov. Ron DeSantis struck a defiant pose.

Asked by a reporter about criticism he had waited too long to close all but non-essential businesses in the state, the governor launched into a vigorous defense, as Trump nodded beside him.

"What have the results been?" he responded. "You look at some of the most draconian orders that have been issued in some of those states and compare Florida in terms of our hospitalizations per 100,000, in terms of our fatalities per 100,000."

He then rattled off nine states and Washington, DC, "you name it -- Florida's done better," part of a 100-second rejoinder that included this statement: "We had a tailored and measured approach that not only helped our numbers be way below what anyone had predicted, but also did less damage going forward."

Well, fast forward 85 days and it is Florida that leads all other states in the number of COVID hospitalizations per 100,000, according to statistics from the COVID Tracking Project. It is fifth among all states in per capita deaths over the last week -- when Florida confirmed a record 118 deaths each day.

If the Oval Office appearance was a victory lap, it is now clear the race was not over.

Then, as now, DeSantis recognized the threat to citizens age 65 or over -- one fifth of the state's population.

"Until the virus goes away, this is the population most at risk," he said in April. "In Florida we have close to 85% of the fatalities have been age 65 or older."

That share remains at 82% Wednesday. In April, that meant 968 seniors dead due to the virus; Wednesday that death toll is 4,424.

Just under half of all the state's deaths have been residents or staff of long term care facilities, a problem DeSantis' lieutenant governor Wednesday said the state continued to address.

"We recognize the unique vulnerabilities of people over 65," said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, "particularly in those settings. So what we hope to do is not only provide additional support with protocols and infection control, but also focus on testing."

Unlike the president -- who in April held a poster DeSantis prepared for the Oval Office visit touting all DeSantis said he was doing to protect senior citizens -- Nunez does not say the virus is going to magically disappear.

"I wouldn’t say it's going to go away," she said. "We understand that we’re going to continue to see this for a little while the amount of cases here in South Florida is concerning obviously."

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