TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting ready to announce his plan to begin reopening the state on Wednesday, he said during a Tuesday meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.
DeSantis largely painted a positive picture of how the state has responded to the coronavirus outbreak, saying it has not been as large a problem as many people predicted.
“For Florida going from where we are now to a phase one is not a very big leap,” DeSantis said while sitting next to Trump. ”We’re going to approach it in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way.”
Florida has had about 30,000 cases of the coronavirus, which has led to 1,171 deaths, according to statistics released by the state Department of Health on Tuesday. But DeSantis said the state is in better shape than others like New York.
Florida trailed most states in issuing a stay at home order. DeSantis rolled out restrictions in a piecemeal way, such as closing bars and prohibiting non-essential, elective surgeries in March, but waited until April 1 to announce his “safer at home” order.
He defended that decision Tuesday.
“You look at some of the most draconian orders that have been issued in some of these states and you compare Florida in terms of our hospitalizations per 100,000 in terms of our fatalities per 100,000. I mean you go from DC, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio – you name it, Florida has done better,” DeSantis said. “Everyone in the media was saying Florida was going to be like New York or Italy, and that has not happened.”
He said Florida, with a population of about 21.5 million people, had fewer than 500 residents on ventilators
“I have 6,500 ventilators that are sitting idle, unused, throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Trump praised DeSantis for using the shutdown to accelerate road projects while there are fewer cars on the road.
“Ron saw the empty roads,” Trump said. “And he said this is a great time to build roads, this is a great time to fix bridges.”
Trump also asked DeSantis if he wanted a travel ban on any particular countries. While Florida usually has a huge number of international travelers, the governor said most of the virus spread has come from places like New York.
“In spite of all the international travel — I mean we have so many people that go to Orlando, Miami and all that — if you look at our outbreak, not a lot of it is tied to that. It’s mostly tied to New York City travel,” DeSantis said.
But he did say Miami is a popular destination for residents of Brazil and other Latin American countries and that could trigger another outbreak. He said airlines should be testing passengers before allowing them to travel.
“Would you ever want to ban certain countries?” Trump asked him.
“If they were seeding the United States, I think you should ban them, for sure,” DeSantis said.
“You let us know,” Trump said.