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Pence Praises DeSantis For Florida's Coronavirus Response During Tampa Visit

Gov. Ron DeSantis at the podium
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the media as Vice President Mike Pence listens during his visit to Florida on July 2, 2020.

Vice President Mike Pence was in Tampa Thursday for a meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, where the pair discussed the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as the number of cases continued to skyrocket.

The pair met as the state reported more than 10,000 new positive cases of coronavirus in a 24-hour period,  marking the ninth straight day where Florida reported more than 5,000 new cases.

"We really are here to assure the people of Florida, as we see the rising number of cases, not only in this state but across the Sunbelt, that we are going to do whatever it takes to make sure that our extraordinary healthcare workers have resources and support and supplies,” Pence said.

He said he will be taking DeSantis' request for medical personnel to President Donald Trump, and announced that 34,000 vials of Remdesivir, a drug being used to treat COVID-19, arrived in Florida on Wednesday.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also attended the meeting at 

a woman in a scarf at a podium.
Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

the University of South Florida Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS).

She encouraged anyone under the age of 40 who has attended a large gathering to be tested. That demographic is known for being asymptomatic if they have COVID-19 and unknowingly spread it.

She said that if there is an increase in testing in these groups, the Food and Drug Administration could implement “pool testing,” which would allow large groups of people, like families or students sharing dorms, to all be tested at the same time.

“With the ability to go back and do individual diagnostic tests for the pools that are positive, we think that this is a critical breakthrough as the FDA continues to bring new testing online,” Birx said. “This will allow us to go from 5,000 tests today to 50,000 tests today.”

Pence complimented the state's response to fighting the pandemic, specifically at long-term care facilities, where nearly 3,000 residents and 3,300 staff have been infected and nearly 1,900 have died. He pointed to the state opening 12 COVID-19 only nursing facilities, with 750 beds for seniors stable enough to leave the hospital but still need to be in quarantine.

This effort, DeSantis said, will increase the number of beds available in hospitals.

Pence also praised DeSantis for his “efforts to open up Florida again,” and his “prudent steps” to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We don’t have to choose between good health and a strong economy,” he said.

However, Thursday's record-breaking number of cases, 10, 109, made Florida the 6th highest state in number of cases. And, according to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Tampa Bay area has the 3rd fastest growth in cases in the past week.

READ MORE: WUSF's Coronavirus Coverage

Governor Ron DeSantis stands wearing a mask, looking to the right.
Credit Daylina Miller / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Governor Ron DeSantis urged young people to act responsibly throughout the 4th of July weekend, following local ordinances about social distancing and mask wearing.

DeSantis avoided questions about the spike in recent cases being connected to the state's decision to reopen some businesses and ease restrictions.

Instead, he blamed 'front page' news coverage of protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

DeSantis said he thought “people weren’t focused on (coronavirus) anymore.”

“I think what happened is the protests, that took corona off the front pages, and really, for two weeks, you didn't see very much about it,” he said. “I think that sent a signal to some people that hey, maybe we're done with this.”

“And I've always been very clear, you know, just by moving into a new phase, the virus doesn't just disappear.”

Pence and DeSantis focused on the need for young people to take responsibility for not spreading the virus. They cited the “strong, independent streak of young people” and the “desire of young people to socialize,” for the recent spikes.

Over the past month, the average age for people testing positive for COVID-19 in Florida has dropped from over 65 to 25-34.

“We all know that for younger Americans, especially those without underlying health challenges, the risk of serious outcome with the coronavirus is fairly small,” Pence said. “But no young person would ever want to unintentionally infect a mom and dad or grandmother or grandfather or an elderly friend.”

Vice President Mike Pence wearing a blue mask, looking to the right.
Credit Daylina Miller / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Vice President Mike Pence said he trusts governors to make the right decisions for their states, and said the plan was always for the pandemic response to be "federally supported, state managed, and locally executed."

When not speaking, both Pence and DeSantis wore masks throughout the conference, and they urged people to follow local ordinances about social distancing and wearing masks.

“With this being in the news more now, I do think people are going to be more conscious of it, when they're going out and interacting during Fourth of July in the way they may not have been for Memorial Day,” DeSantis said. “So, if everyone is enjoying life, but doing it responsibly, we're going to be fine, we'll get that positivity rate down.”

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