DeSantis Sends Text To Floridians, Works To Get Faster COVID-19 Tests, Stops New Yorkers On I-95
The emergency alert text message you received over the weekend — warning you to social distance — was from the state.
WLRN depends on donors to remain South Florida’s leading nonprofit, most trusted source of news and information. Support our mission by giving monthly as a sustaining member of Friends of WLRN or make a one-time donation of your choice. Thank you. Click here to give.
During a press conference Saturday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would be sending a text message out to all Floridians to reiterate the Florida Surgeon General’s public health advisory:
“FL Surgeon Gen: Stay home if 65+ or have medical conditions. All Follow social distancing,” the text read.
“Protect yourself. Now’s not the time to go outside,” DeSantis said.
(According to Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas, the Herald and Tampa Bay Times were barred from attending Saturday’s press conference)
Treatment Option Coming To South Florida
DeSantis also announced the state is making new treatment options available, and continuing to expand testing. As of Saturday afternoon, the state Department of Health has kept track of close to 41,000 tests.
Hospitals in South Florida, the region hardest hit in the state by the Coronavirus, will soon get shipments of the anti- malaria medication, hydroxychloroquine, from the Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva.
“Look, I’m not a doctor — I’m not telling anyone to take it or not take it — but I do believe in the idea of a right to try,” DeSantis said. “This will be something that the doctors can have at their disposal … I just think that if somebody is in dire condition and may not have any other option, we want to be able to give them all the opportunities that they have.”
The first shipments of the medication are planned for Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, as well as Hillsborough County and the Orlando area.
President Donald Trump said in a White House press briefing on March 19 that the drug has shown “very encouraging early results.”
Meanwhile, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention warn that the drug is still under investigation in clinical trials, and there isn’t data currently available from clinical trials to guide doctors on treating COVID-19 patients with it.
The state is also working to get ‘rapid tests’ for COVID-19 that process the results more quickly.
Florida Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz has ordered more than 2,000 rapid tests for COVID-19 to come to Florida soon, according to DeSantis. The tests offer results in under an hour, and are made by the company Cepheid.
“We’re sending them down to South Florida as well as some to Jacksonville,” DeSantis said. “The problem with the testing that we have now is these private labs are overrun…a lot of people have to wait, three, four, five days to be able to get test results and I know that causes a lot of angst for a lot of people.”
According to NPR, Cepheid believes the rapid test kits will be available by the end of the month.
When it comes to getting Floridians back to work, after a spike in people filing for unemployment benefits, DeSantis announced he has ordered the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity to make an additional $100 million available to local governments for infrastructure projects through Rebuild Florida.
The money is part of block grants for recovery projects after Hurricane Irma. Funds were allocated to other programs that “didn’t get much traction,” according to DeSantis.
“We really believe that given the economic circumstances, putting this [money] into some infrastructure would be good for the economy, be able to put some people back to work, so stay tuned on that,” he said.
He expects the application window for those funds will open in the coming week.
The state has a checkpoint set up at I-10 to screen people as they drive into the Florida Panhandle. Now, DeSantis has approved setting up a second interstate checkpoint on I-95 to stop people coming from the New York area, and require them to self-isolate for 14 days.
"We wouldn't be able to just bar access to Florida … but we do have the right to be able to do a checkpoint like this, get the information, provide the requirements about self-isolation and then follow up to make sure that they're doing it or not," He said.
The checkpoint is still in the process of getting set up.
New York came up again as DeSantis was asked about not shutting down Florida's beaches:
"It's more of a political issue. Do you see the same people complaining about the New York City subway system being open?" he asked. "I mean give me a break, which one is more conducive to having COVID-19 spread? It's not even close."
No Election Regrets
DeSantis told reporters Saturday that he does not regret his decision to hold the Florida Presidential Preference Primary. Two poll workers in Broward County who worked at polls in Hollywood and the Weston early voting location have tested positive for COVID-19.
"The supervisors of election, the secretary of state, they had procedures in place... they assured me that it was safe," he said. "And I think, it seems like it was safe."
DeSantis contended that canceling the election would have sent a message of panic to Floridians already on edge — and crowds were kept at a minimum.
"I think that was the right thing to do," DeSantis said.