By John Haughey
The Center Square
April 15, 2020
(The Center Square, April 14, 2020) – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ news conference Monday featured what can be described as good news in the age of coronavirus: a flattening or “plateau” of new cases and fatalities attributed to COVID-19 in Florida the past week.
It ended, however, in a sobering shoe-drop, when Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told reporters after DeSantis left that social distancing protocols could be in place until next year.
“Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off, this is going to be our new normal,” Rivkees said, noting a vaccine could be more than a year away.
Rivkees, Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew remained after DeSantis departed the news conference – the first in weeks where all four appeared – to answer reporters’ questions.
Rivkees’ response was to one of those questions. His comments, which don’t jibe with the governor’s hopeful emphasis on lifting restrictions within weeks, were quickly followed by DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré directing questions to Mayhew.
As Mayhew was responding to a question, Ferré and Rivkees left. Ferré returned a short while later, while Rivkees did not.
Earlier, DeSantis and the three others expressed reserved optimism about numbers posted on the state’s COVID-19 webpage that, as of Tuesday morning, reported 21,019 confirmed cases, about 2,841 hospitalizations and 499 deaths.
DeSantis said the state’s positive rate per 1,000 tests is 92.7 and its fatality rate per 1,000 COVID-19 cases is 2.7. Both are below those reported in Texas and California, he said.
The governor said since about 1,300 new cases were reported on consecutive days, April 2-3, the state has reached “a little bit of plateau” with 850 new cases reported Monday and the number of those hospitalized with the disease statewide declining by 25, a nominal number, but a trend in the right direction.
Twenty-nine deaths attributed to the disease were reported Monday, significantly below the 48 Floridians who died from COVID-19 on April 9, the deadliest day for victims of the disease in the state.
Rivkees said further evidence of “plateauing” is the rate of positives among new tests has been around 11 percent every day for the past week with the number of hospitalizations and intensive care unit admittances stabilizing.
He said the state has “7,000 ventilators available,” adding requests for the machines “have been stable for the past week.”
Mayhew said the state’s hospitals overall “are not seeing the rate of increase” some feared “but are confident that they are ready to address any surge. They do not have a level of concern that this will be well beyond the capacity of hospitals to handle this.”
She cautioned: “We need to be vigilant to bend this curve.”
DeSantis attributed the flattening numbers to a dramatic increase in testing, especially in south Florida, home to about 30 percent of the state’s population and more than 60 percent of its COVID-19 cases.
DOH reported Monday that 199,767 tests had been conducted statewide, a ratio of one for every 85 residents, which DeSantis said exceeds South Korea’s “gold standard” of one test for every 200 people.
Before he was whisked away, Rivkees said until a vaccine is developed to prevent person-to-person transmission, current social distancing measures must be maintained.
“As long as we’re going to have COVID in the environment, and this is a tough virus, we’re going to have to practice these measures so that we are all protected,” he said. “I cannot emphasize enough that we cannot let our guard down.”