Florida congressional Democrats called out Gov. Ron DeSantis for his “ongoing and purposeful lack of transparency” by being slow to release weekly White House coronavirus task force reports and temporarily pausing the reporting of backlogged COVID-19 deaths.
Florida Dems slam DeSantis over not releasing COVID reports, lag in reporting deaths
Naseem S. Miller
Florida congressional Democrats on Friday called out Gov. Ron DeSantis for his “ongoing and purposeful lack of transparency” by being slow to release weekly White House coronavirus task force reports and temporarily pausing the reporting of backlogged COVID-19 deaths.
“During a public health emergency, it is imperative that your Administration provide Floridians with timely information and guidance that ensures their health and safety,” said a letter sent to DeSantis on Friday and signed by 11 Florida lawmakers.
The letter comes a week after the Orlando Sentinel sued DeSantis and his office for failing to provide the task force reports and after reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel that showed inconsistency in COVID-19 death numbers shortly after early voting started in Florida.
“By failing to publicly disclose the Task Force reports in a timely manner, and purposefully creating a reporting gap in Florida’s coronavirus death data, your Administration continues to demonstrate a lack of transparency without reason or justification,” the Florida Democratic members of Congress wrote in a letter co-led by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In a separate letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Soto and Wasserman Schultz asked for an investigation into “possible irregularities” in the COVID daily death reporting from Oct. 24 to Nov. 17.
On Friday, Florida reported more than 13,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row and among the highest daily cases reported since the pandemic began.
Statewide, more than 5,100 patients with COVID-19 were in hospitals as of Friday. That’s compared with a low of 2,000 patients in October.
In Central Florida, nearly 560 COVID-19 patients are now in hospital beds, compared with a low of 225 in mid-September.
Since the Orlando Sentinel sued, DeSantis’ office has released six reports — five from November and one from December, at a rate of two reports a day. The lawsuit isn’t resolved because the state has not yet agreed to release the future reports in a timely manner. The parties have a hearing set for Monday.
The two task force reports released on Friday — for Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 — continue to show the spread of the virus across the state and elevated hospital admissions. They also continue to stress the importance of mask wearing, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
“Begin warning about any gathering during December holidays,” said the Dec. 6 report in bold letters.
The Democrats’ letter to DeSantis highlighted that warning.
“In contravention, your Administration has ordered a full reopening of bars and restaurants, encouraged indoor dining, and sought to stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates,” the letter states.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the federal government began releasing a new coronavirus report called the COVID-19 Community Profile Report. The document focuses on recent COVID-19 outcomes in the last seven days and provides information at national, state and regional levels.
“This will give the American people the same community level information that is available to federal personnel. We hope the publication of this data will help Americans make personal choices to slow the spread,” according to the government website where the report was posted.
Unlike the weekly task force reports sent to state governors, the new report does not include state-level recommendations, nor does it provide detailed county-level data.
Among the highlights from the report:
• Orlando is one of the 10 large metro areas in the nation with an increasing burden of coronavirus cases. The metro area had a 50% increase in cases compared with the prior week
• In a scale of green to red, Florida falls in the orange zone for COVID-19 case positivity and hospital admissions. Thirty-five states are considered red, led by Tennessee, Nevada and Oklahoma.
• Nationwide, new cases and hospital admissions are at the highest level since the pandemic began. Positivity rates and deaths are also increasing.
• Nearly all Florida counties and most counties across the nation are colored red and identified as having a high sustained burden of coronavirus cases.
• Almost all states, including Florida are colored dark red for the number of increase in the number new cases per capita over the last eight weeks.
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