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Frontline Workers Say Florida Lacks Coronavirus Leadership

a woman in a red shirt on a zoom call.
Screenshot from Nikki Fried's frontline health care worker roundtable via Zoom
Linda Exantus, an emergency room technician from Miami-Dade County, said it's a slap in the face to be called a hero when frontline workers are short-staffed, lack PPE, and are not given hazard pay.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Friday hosted a virtual roundtable with frontline health care workers to talk about Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fried and the participants discussed what Florida’s leaders must do to properly manage the COVID-19 public health crisis. The state is experiencing an outbreak that is among the worst in the United States.

“As a physician, I am appalled at the current situation, not just in the state, but the nation. In the midst of this global pandemic with no end in sight, our elected officials, Gov. DeSantis, and the president, are acting like everything is fine – but everything is not fine,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, former national board chair of Doctors for America.

“We still don’t have enough PPE. The data that is coming out of the state and the nation, there is a lot of mistrust because of the secrecy around it. There is no national strategy to combat this pandemic, and it is a failure of leadership on so many levels. My hope is that we can finally have leadership in Tallahassee and in Washington that puts science behind all public policy.”

Dr. Ron Saff, a board member of Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the state's surgeon general and Florida Medical Association support mask wearing but Gov. Ron DeSantis has failed to act.

“Just think about the amount of Floridians in hospitals and intensive care units because the governor has failed to enact a mask mandate and the contact tracing program here is horrible,” Saff said.

Doctors, nurses and technicians also shared discrepancies in what state leaders say, versus what they're witnessing on the ground.

These frontline workers say they're still having personal protective equipment and staff shortages. They also say ICU bed capacity doesn't paint full picture of the issue when there aren’t enough trained staff to use specialized equipment or people to tend to patients.

“PPE shortages are real. We’re not being provided with everything we need to be caring for these patients,” said Alicia Ciliezar, a registered nurse from Miami-Dade County. “I would welcome any figure in leadership right now to take a tour of the intensive care unit, and then tell me whether or not if it should be a discussion — masks should be mandated right now.”

Linda Exantus, an emergency room technician from Miami-Dade County, said it's a slap in the face to be called a hero.

“They call us heroes, but staffing three nurses and two techs in a 30-room emergency room is cruel. Mandating that we wear a soiled mask for multiple shifts before providing another one is cruel,” Exantus said.

“Requiring frontline workers and ICU nurses to work overtime before giving us crumbs of pay is cruel. Not providing easy testing options for frontline workers, and having to wait three weeks before I, or anyone, can kiss our children is cruel. You call us heroes, but is this how you treat your heroes?”

Florida recently recorded the nation’s highest one-day total of new COVID-19 case, and the state’s cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise