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Florida governor pushes back against leaked White House report urging state to take stricter steps

Gov. Ron DeSantis: another shutdown not necessary
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Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-20 10:56:35-04

TAMPA, Fla. — This article about the coronavirus red zone was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington.

After months of increased cases and weeks of record-breaking headlines, the White House Coronavirus Task Force weighed in earlier this week on Florida's unrelenting outbreak by suggesting Florida take stricter measures to control the virus' spread.

In an unpublished report first obtained and reported by the Center for Public Integrity, Florida is identified as one of 18 states in the coronavirus "red zone" with more than 100 cases per 100,000 population.

Florida is also flagged in the report for having a positivity rate above 10%.

As a result, the White House task force is suggesting mask requirements and business shutdowns in high-case counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, parts of southwest Florida and nearly all of Tampa Bay.

During a Zoom news conference Friday morning, several of the state's Democratic U.S. Congress members referenced the report as they voiced frustrations with the governor's lack of communication with them and unwillingness to roll back measures.

"How many people is it going to take to die in Florida of the coronavirus before the governor will heed the common sense and Florida health guidance that he has gotten and ignored to require masks?" asked U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz of South Florida, often called the state's epicenter of the virus.

But many Florida businesses along with municipalities have already adopted mask requirements. In addition, another shutdown means another round of unemployment in a state highly criticized for a broken unemployment system still leaving thousands financially hanging.

Reporter Katie LaGrone asked the lawmakers during the Zoom call how they will protect the unemployed through another shutdown.

"We have an obligation to call on the governor to fix the unemployment system," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Deutch also called on U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to pass federal measures that would help funnel money into the state for additional unemployment assistance.

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But on Friday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn't seem to budge on his stance to keep Florida open and any mask requirements up to individual cities and counties to decide.

"I think the fact that we're testing so much has led to case numbers that have been put out there, I think, unfairly," DeSantis said.

DeSantis said he had no plans to shut down gyms, restaurants or other businesses.

As for why the White House didn't make the report public, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway spoke to reporters during a White House briefing on Friday.

"I don't know which document you're referring to," Conway said. "I only read about it and would have to look into."

Scott said in a statement that he has long called for government transparency and "encourages every Floridian to wear a mask and social distance." Rubio called the state's rising cases "a very serious situation." His office staff also provided a copy of a recent tweet in which he called the need to weigh the costs and benefits of another shutdown.