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Florida Governor Keeps Low Profile As Coronavirus Cases Surge

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Florida, cases of the coronavirus are rising rapidly. But one person who's an important part of the response has been silent - Governor Ron DeSantis. Before the presidential election, he was holding almost daily briefings. There has not been one since. NPR's Greg Allen reports local officials are asking for help.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Governor DeSantis hasn't held a briefing on Florida's response to the coronavirus since last month. In fact, he hasn't spoken publicly since just after the election. But on Fox News, he encouraged legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan to consider awarding electors to President Trump.

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RON DESANTIS: Under Article 2 of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures and the schemes they create.

ALLEN: In Miami-Dade County, hospitalizations for COVID-19, once again, are steeply rising. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber says, meanwhile, the governor has stayed silent.

DAN GELBER: We need some leadership right now. The state is confronting a surge right now in this pandemic.

ALLEN: This week, local government boards and commissions in Florida had to go back to meeting in person. DeSantis refused to extend an order allowing gatherings to be held online, part of this policy lifting all coronavirus restrictions statewide.

At the Miami-Dade County Commission, member Rebecca Sosa asked chairperson Audrey Edmonson, what happens if a member of the public contracts COVID-19 at a meeting?

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REBECCA SOSA: Who's responsible?

AUDREY EDMONSON: The governor.

SOSA: OK.

ALLEN: DeSantis has steadfastly refused to consider a statewide mask mandate in Florida and has issued an order preventing local governments from enforcing local mandates. Mayor Gelber says that's created a big problem for Miami Beach.

GELBER: We gave out a thousand mask citations, but it's hard to tell somebody to give them a citation if you can't actually have any enforcement of it.

ALLEN: Gelber believes that DeSantis is quietly pursuing a herd immunity approach, allowing those at low risk of complications to become infected. DeSantis hasn't addressed the herd immunity charge directly but says Florida's strategy in combating the virus is to focus efforts on protecting the elderly and most vulnerable. Other Republican officials in Florida support the governor's approach. Democrats feel he isn't being honest or transparent about his plans for controlling spread of the virus. A Democratic leader in Florida's House, Evan Jenne, says he no longer trusts the state's reporting on COVID-19.

EVAN JENNE: At this point, we really don't know how many people have actually died in the state of Florida due to corona. You know, you can look at some of the Johns Hopkins numbers with deaths over flu from last year. And that number grows significantly from that 17- or 18,000 number that the state's currently reporting.

ALLEN: In response to repeated questions from the media, DeSantis' spokesman says the governor will hold a briefing very soon. It will likely focus on the positive. Yesterday, he was in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings on when and how coronavirus vaccines will be made available in Florida.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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