Health advocates and COVID-19 victims call on Gov. DeSantis to rethink reopening

Media Contacts
Sydney Riess

Florida has not achieved low infection levels and adequate testing that medical experts say are needed


TALLAHASSEE, Fla: As the official COVID-19 death count surpassed 210,000 Americans this week, health advocates and Floridians who have lost loved ones to the novel coronavirus  commemorated their memories Thursday as part of a national week of mourning. This virtual media conference and vigil focused on the nearly 15,000 people who COVID-19 has killed in Florida (recording here). 

Flying in the face of grim warnings about hundreds of thousands more coronavirus-related deaths in the coming months, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently lifted restrictions on indoor dining, an activity linked to a higher risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Making matters worse, Florida still has virus levels well above what health professionals deem safe for reopening. 

“Governor DeSantis is gambling with peoples’ lives by reopening too quickly and lifting important restrictions before it’s safe to do so. We can reopen safely and protect peoples’ health, but only if we follow public health protocols, and right now that’s not what the governor’s doing,” said Sydney Riess, Public Health Campaigns Associate for U.S. PIRG. 

While a handful of states have the virus under control, it continues to spread unchecked in much of the United States, including in Florida, according to the Covid Exit Strategy Map.

“Our state’s most vulnerable citizens are our seniors and our children. We protect them by protecting ourselves. We need to be proactive, we need to wear masks when we go out in public, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient. We need to stop the social gatherings and we need to practice social distancing,” said Diane Russo, Tampa Resident and Marked by Covid Activist. 

Florida is far from its peak level of COVID-19 cases in the summer, but it’s still nowhere near levels that are safe for increasing density in bars and indoor dining. This misguided decision could squander the progress Florida has made over the last several months, and risk more lives unnecessarily.  

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, failed my dad, he failed every single person that has passed in the State of Florida and all those who have been affected by Covid. His lack of leadership is deadly and he turned Public Health into a partisan battle. My dad believed in the Governor and it cost him his life,” said Marco Reyes, Miami Resident and Marked by Covid Activist.

For months, health experts have laid out how to contain this virus and save lives. Nearly 1,400 health professionals signed a letter calling on decision-makers at all levels of government to lower the number of virus cases by closing non-essential businesses and to only reopen once states have built robust testing and tracing capacity. Some of the nation’s top economists joined the call to make clear that rushing to reopen before squashing the virus would backfire and prolong economic damage. 

“Once virus levels come down dramatically across Florida and the state ramps up its testing and contact tracing infrastructure, only then should Governor DeSantis consider reopening further, one step at a time,” said Riess.

Although the state is starting to receive shipments of rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government, Florida needs to do nearly thirty times as much testing as it’s doing now to suppress the virus, according to a model from the Brown School of Public Health. 

U.S. PIRG, Marked by Covid, and Fair Share are promoting the National Week of Mourning with other groups across the country.