Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation
University of South Florida
3:38 P.M. EDT
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Well, I want to thank the Vice President. I want to thank Secretary Azar, Dr. Hahn, Dr. Birx for coming down to Florida, and also just for all the help that they provided throughout these many months.
You know, we are now in a situation where we are testing a lot more. We also have a greater percentage of people testing positive. I mean, throughout May and early June here in Hillsborough County, for example, I think they were testing at about 3 or 4 percent would test positive. Now, we’re looking at places like Hillsborough and in Orange County, no longer 3, 4 percent but now 15 percent of folks are testing positive. Obviously when you’re testing about 60,000 people a day — we’re getting results like that over the last week — that’s going to generate a lot of additional cases.
So we were discussing some of the things that we may be able to do going forward, including pooling, types of testing in conjunction with our universities — which I think will be really, really good. We also spoke with some of the hospital systems here — Tampa General, BayCare — about other ways that we could be helpful.
You know, one of the things — if you go back to March when we, kind of, faced the initial wave of this, I mean, we had very few tests relative to what we have now. Now hospitals test — anyone that comes in for something, they can test. You know, we, between the state, we’re doing 10 to 15 thousand tests a day at all the different sites.
There was a question about PPE. We’ve got PPE; hospitals have it, the state has it. You know, we’re good to go there. There was no treatment of any kind, really, for this. It was totally novel. The physicians have learned a lot.
And then, through Secretary Azar and HHS — I remember coming down, I think at the end of April, to visit Tampa General. They asked about remdesivir. We called Secretary Azar; they’ve been sending a bunch of the remdesivir down. So the physicians are using that. They’re using convalescent plasma. And they are having definitely better results.
And then we also — even though we took a lot of action early to protect the long-term care facilities — since March, we have increasingly brought on COVID-only dedicated nursing facilities. And so we now have 12 of these facilities throughout the state of Florida. We have one in Pinellas, one in Polk, which the Tampa Bay hospitals can use and nursing homes can use.
And basically, the idea is: If you have somebody test positive in a nursing home, you don’t want that to spread to the other residents. That individual is medically stable; they can be transferred to the COVID-only facility. If they need hospitalization, obviously they go to the hospital. But if they end up becoming stable while in the hospital, rather than be discharged back to that facility, which would create problems, you have a place to go to be able to discharge that.
So all around the state now we’ve got 750 beds in COVID-only nursing facilities. And so we just brought one on in Miami. We now have one in Broward, two in Palm Beach, two in southwest Florida, Brevard County, Jacksonville, Escambia, and Tallahassee.
So, pretty much anywhere around the state, if you have somebody who is a resident of a long-term care facility, that’s in the hospital, that’s medically stable but still contagious, you have a place where they can be safely transferred. So we think that that’s something that’s very, very significant.
The message that we’ve really been sending for folks in Florida: I think because we had such a quiet May — because, you know, the positivity was so low, the caseload was so low — it kind of fell out of the news at the end of May, beginning of June, and I think people weren’t as focused on it anymore. And now, obviously we’ve seen these cases. So I think people are more focused on it.
But basically, the message is, you know, for those folks who are 65 and older, people that have significant underlying medical conditions, you know, do your best to avoid crowds and minimize close contact with people outside your home right now.
We have the virus community transmission, particularly with younger people. If you look at where — you go back a month, the median age of our cases was in the 50s. Now the median age of the cases here in Hillsborough County for the entire pandemic has dropped to 34. And there’ll be days where we’ll get cases in Hillsborough County and the median age will be under 30. In Orange County, the median age for the whole pandemic is now 32. There’s days where it’ll be 28 and 29. So it’s been a huge shift.
The case growth has really been in that 18 to 34, 35 age group. Now, those are folks that are, by and large, going to be much less prone to significant consequences. Nevertheless, with the increasing positivity rate, it’s clear that you’re seeing more and more community transmission really being driven by that age group.
And so if you’re someone in one of the medically vulnerable conditions or you’re an older person, you know, just understand that that’s out there, continue to be vigilant. I think folks in Florida — the seniors — have been very, very vigilant throughout this whole time. We still want to ask people to be able to do that going forward.
And then for, kind of, the general public, you know, we’re telling people to avoid the three Cs: you know, closed spaces. In Florida, it’s hot. People don’t want to be outside in 95-degree heat. Just understand, if you’re getting together in closed spaces with poor ventilation, that is going to be a much better vector for this virus to be able to spread.
We’re also saying avoid large crowds. Now, we had for a long time a 10-person gathering limit. We’ve advised, you know, not to do more than 50. But I would say the smaller the group, the better for that.
And then also, the close contact. If you’re in really close, sustained contact with somebody, you’re going to be more apt to see transmission of this virus.
So avoid the three Cs. Stay safe and take care of yourself during this holiday weekend.
I want to bring up the Vice President just to thank him. He came down, I remember, at the very beginning of this in March. We went down and met with the cruise line folks. He’s always been there to help us as we’ve needed different things, and, you know, we have needed things from time to time. And so I really want to thank him for being a friend to the state of Florida, being a friend to the people of Florida, and really never leaving this fight.
I mean, even as we saw numbers go down across the country in May, you know, now we see a Sun Belt resurgence, and he’s been, I think, all over the Sun Belt just in the last few days. So we’ve already discussed ways that they can help Florida going forward, and I know that they’re going to be able to deliver on that.
So I want to — it’s my, really, honor to be able to welcome yet again to the state of Florida, our Vice President Mike Pence.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Governor DeSantis. Thank you for your leadership. The people of Florida deserve to know that from the very beginning of this pandemic, Governor DeSantis and his healthcare team have formed a seamless partnership with our entire White House Coronavirus Task Force.
And whether it be in testing, whether it be in personal protective equipment, whether it be in the distribution of therapeutics like remdesivir, or whether it be in advancing the kind of mitigation efforts that have kept Florida low for a long time until just a few short weeks ago — Governor, I want to thank you. Thank you for your leadership and your partnership.
And I want to thank all the people of Florida for all of your efforts over the many months, and to say to each and every one of you, what we said to the Governor today is: We’re with you. And at President Trump’s direction, we’re going to make sure that your governor and the state of Florida have what you need, when you need it, to meet this moment of rising cases across the state.
We really are here to assure the people of Florida that, as we — as we see the rising cases not only in this state but across the Sun Belt, that we’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that our extraordinary healthcare workers have the resources and the support and supplies.
The Governor and I talked today about personnel, and we’ll be considering a request from the state of Florida about medical personnel that we’ll be processing in very short order.
But, Governor, I also want to thank you for your efforts. I want to thank you for your efforts to open up Florida again. We had good news this morning as a nation: Nearly 5 million jobs created in the month of June, including many here in the state of Florida. It was the largest one-month increase in history. And Florida, being an economic engine for the United States, played a key role in that.
But I also want to say, Governor, that we fully support your prudent steps in working to slow the spread and the rise in cases that are impacting Florida today.
As we said at a task force meeting not long ago, it’s — and I’d say to the people of Florida: It’s not an either/or choice. If all of us will put into practice the guidance from state and local officials — which is wash your hands, practice good hygiene, wear a mask when it’s indicated by local officials, or wear a mask when you can social distance — we know that we can do what Florida did for those many months and what other impacted areas around the country did. We can slow the spread. We can flatten the curve. But it’ll take all of us to do it. And I just want to reassure you, Governor, that we’re going to be working with you to make sure that Florida has all the resources.
The economic comeback that’s underway is a — is a demonstration that we don’t have to choose between opening up America and the health of our people. We can do both. And that’s the challenge that we face today across the Sun Belt.
And we just want to encourage, with great respect, all Floridians to put these principles into practice and know that we’re going to stay with you every step of the way.
I do want to say that we’re encouraged today to hear a report from the Governor that, particularly in the category of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, that Florida’s hospitals are in good shape. We also are pleased to hear the hospital capacity remains strong in this state.
We’re informed there’s about more than 13,000 total hospital beds available at this time. Availability, 22 percent of hospital capacity. Ventilators, which were an issue before our nation four months ago, at the beginning of this pandemic, are in abundant supply. We’re told that there’s more than 5,500 ventilators available across the state of Florida.
And at President Trump’s direction, we worked with companies across the country. We’re well on our way to manufacturing 100,000 ventilators in 100 days, and in just a matter of the next two weeks, we’ll have 50,000 ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile. And should the need arise anywhere here in Florida, we want to assure you, Governor, and all your healthcare workers that the resources will be there.
We’re also encouraged to hear that personal protective equipment remains in abundant supply in the state. The federal government has shipped literally millions of N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves, but we’ll continue to make sure that those resources flow to the great healthcare systems that we had the opportunity to meet with today.
As you’ll hear in a moment, too, from the director of the FDA, Dr. Stephen Hahn, we’re also making steady progress in distributing therapeutics, or medicines, to treat people that are suffering the symptoms of the coronavirus. And I’m pleased to report to your governor today that, just yesterday, the latest shipment of remdesivir arrived in Florida — 34,000 vials of remdesivir that’s — that will literally treat thousands of patients in this state.
That, combined with other innovative treatments like steroids and convalescent plasma, we literally are — we’re in a much better place than even two months ago to be able to treat people who have contracted the coronavirus.
And I hope that — I hope that that message, more than anything else, comes through today to the people of Florida — is to understand that we are, because of all we’ve done as a country, because of President Trump’s leadership in standing up a whole-of-America approach — manufacturing supplies, innovating in testing, developing therapeutics, and well on our way to developing a vaccine — we hope and trust, perhaps even by the end of this year, that we are in a much better place to confront the rising cases that are impacting here in Florida and all across the country.
And so I want people to be vigilant, but we want people to be encouraged that we’re going to make sure your governor and the state of Florida has everything you need to meet this moment and do what Florida has been doing from the very beginning, and that is putting the health of the people of this state first.
And let me also say, with great admiration to the people of Florida, that the record of Florida in protecting the most vulnerable is among the best in the nation. And, Governor, your steps — your steps to protect residents of long-term care, to create those COVID-only facilities, to do the kind of testing that’s — the record in Florida really speaks for itself. And we commend you for that, and we’ll continue to support your efforts.
Governor, President Trump and I are absolutely committed to supporting your efforts to respond to this outbreak in Florida, to slow the spread, to protect the vulnerable, to get our kids back to school, and to keep opening up our economy.
But lastly, let me say to all my fellow Americans all across Florida: We all need to do our part, and we once again want to specifically encourage younger Americans in Florida. It’s one of the unique things — I was in Arizona yesterday, I was in Texas over the weekend, and as we discussed with your governor, it’s a truism of this moment in the pandemic that some 50 percent of all the new cases are Americans under the age of 35.
And to each and every one of you, let me just say from my heart: I know you know that without a serious underlying health condition, that the threat of the coronavirus to younger Americans is very, very low. But no younger American would ever want to put at risk a grandmother, a grandfather, a mom, a dad, an elderly neighbor, or a friend by inadvertently exposing them to the coronavirus.
And that’s why we encourage you to be vigilant, to heed state and local guidance, and to respect those who are most vulnerable, in particular. And just know that if all of us do our part, we’ll get through this.
I can’t help but feel that the resilience and the strength and the character of the American people shown forth today, that even in these challenging times, we’re continuing to see America’s economy coming back and America going back to work.
And I’m just absolutely confident, if all of us do all that we need to do, we’ll do what we’ve done before in other parts of the country and what Florida did for so many months: We will slow the spread, we will flatten the curve, we will save lives, and we will bring Florida and America’s economy back bigger and better than ever before.
With that, I’m going to invite to the podium a couple of members of our team. Dr. Deborah Birx has been the White House coordinator, been our lead scientist on all matters. And after her, we’ll hear from the Secretary of HHS briefly, and the head of the FDA, to share with you what we heard today and what we’re seeing.
But, Governor, once again, thank you for your leadership. And to all the people of Florida: We’re with you, and we’re going to stay with you until that day comes that we put the coronavirus in the past here in Florida and all across America.
Thank you and God bless you.
DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you today. And I want to start where the Vice President left off: that we all have a critical role to play in the next few weeks.
We were watching this area, Tampa, very closely — through March, through April, through May, through your reopening. And for days after days, weeks after weeks, we saw you sitting at 4 percent, which everybody, including the World Health Organization, said is a safe place to be.
At end of May, we began to see your numbers increase and go from a very low of 4 percent at the end of May to this high now of 17 percent. So this virus came to Tampa and spread through Tampa sometime along the end of May, and then spread through the asymptomatic groups that don’t, as described, get symptoms and constantly spread, and to the point where you have this number of cases today. And we all have a critical role to play over the next two to three weeks to stop that spread.
To every Floridian: We know what works, in addition to the hand washing and the social distancing, wearing masks, and not having large gatherings inside, not having large gathering outside. But if you participated in a large gathering in the last four weeks, we ask all of you to come forward and be tested because of the level of asymptomatic spread.
So we’re asking for everyone under 40 that, if you were in a gathering, please go and get tested. Please wear a mask. Please do all of the hygiene issues. And please stay away from those who have comorbidities.
Of course, the governors and mayors are all acting together to really extend and stay safe for everybody in Florida. But also, the federal government has a role, and that’s why it was exciting to be here today to talk to the University of South Florida and your brilliant scientists and physicians here to really start to implement pooled testing. That is our breakthrough that we’ve been working on for three weeks.
We think that Florida and this university and this particular county is a great place to start. How can that be utilized? It can be utilized three ways. One way is going into neighborhoods and testing whole families into a single tube. And then if anybody is positive, you would go back, use your contact tracing to test everyone in the household.
It is easy for them to test themselves by just the front of their nose into the transport media, coming back here, working with your research community to run those tests, going back then and testing the positive households and ensuring those that are positive remain quarantined and isolated for the next couple of weeks.
It’s the role for the federal government to support that enhanced testing. FDA has put out new guidelines to encourage it. We have put guidelines up on the White House website. They’ve been there for three or four weeks, but we really need to act on them and have a partnership, like here today, bringing together community with scientists and the medical field to really take that next step.
That can also be used in screening large numbers of school students, because you can put 10 into one tube. So you can do a classroom with retest.
This is groundbreaking for putting people back to school and keeping universities open, where you could test an entire dorm probably with 10 to 15 tests, always with the ability to go back and do individual diagnostic tests for the pools that are positive.
We think that this is a critical breakthrough. As the FDA continues to bring new testing online, this would allow us to go from 5,000 tests a day to 50,000 tests a day. And for in Florida, that would be a log increase that we could support and continue, and we want to encourage that but we want to work alongside you.
And as the Vice President said, of course we are here to support your medical community — and you’ll hear from Dr. Hahn and Secretary Azar — but we’re here also as the federal government so that you know that you have our continuous support.
There are things that we have to do together as individuals that established this great nation. It’s a privilege to wear red, white, and blue today. I don’t often get — you only get to do that a couple of times a year, so it’s a privilege to be here celebrating the birth of our country and asking each American citizen, particularly Floridians, to do the responsible thing of wearing a mask, protecting others.
And we, as a state and local, and federal government, will walk beside you and help with all of those innovations to bring us to a different place — lower those cases and stop the spread.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, Governor DeSantis, thank you for having us here and for welcoming us again to Florida and for being here in Tampa. Boy, I learned a lot. I learned a lot from the University of South Florida and Tampa General. Got a long list of actions coming out of this really tremendous session that we get so much value from.
And thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your leadership of our all-of-America approach to defeating this virus.
I want to begin by thanking the healthcare workers and also the members of the HHS team that are working here in Florida and across the country to beat this virus. They put themselves in harm’s way every day to help their fellow citizens, and we owe them all a deep debt of gratitude.
Thanks to the President and the Vice President’s leadership over the past several months, we at HHS and across the administration have built a six-point, all-of-America strategy to protect our country from the virus and, in time, defeat it. And in each of these domains, as the Vice President said, we have advanced dramatically over just the last two months. That’s surveillance, testing, containment, healthcare system resilience, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Here in Florida, thanks to the strong work by the state, we now have far more ability to track the spread of the virus than ever before. We know that cases are rising quickly in parts of the state, but with the right data, as Dr. Birx said, we can target our approach and respond.
To support testing and containment, this week, CDC put out guidance around testing for higher education, as well as for K-through-12 students.
On therapeutics, we’ve distributed nearly 7,000 remdesivir treatment courses to Florida. And this week, the President secured access to another 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir over the next three months, which will be allocated based on data that we continue to collect about the virus.
We’ve put out treatment guidelines for the use of dexamethasone and corticosteroids. And we’re seeing promising data on the use of convalescent plasma, in terms — in the treatment of tens of thousands of patients. These are three therapeutics that likely have already saved thousands of lives.
On vaccines: This week, the FDA put out guidance to accelerate progress toward a safe and effective vaccine. Before a vaccine is ready, we’ll be working with states like Florida to plan for what distribution will look like.
Now, individuals will have a key role to play in our strategy. You can help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community by assessing the risks that you face. Just think about three questions: First, who am I and whom do I live with? Do age or underlying conditions put me at a higher risk? Second, where am I? Is the virus spreading where I live, and what are the recommendations of state and local authorities where I am? And third, what am I thinking about doing? Going to a crowded indoor place is riskier than an outdoor activity.
Practice physical distancing. When you can’t keep a distance, wear a cloth face covering. Always practice good hygiene, including hand washing. These simple steps will make it much easier for us as a country to defeat the virus together.
So thank you all very much for being here, but thank you for everything that the people of Florida are doing not just to protect yourself and those you live with, but if you’re young, as was said earlier by the Vice President, you know the risk to you are quite low. But you’re protecting vulnerable people in your household. You’re also protecting the stranger standing next to you in the grocery store line, and you don’t know if that person is vulnerable, and you don’t want that on your conscience.
Practice social distancing, wear face covering, and practice good personal hygiene.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s great. Stephen?
DR. HAHN: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your leadership of the coronavirus task force. It’s really been remarkable. And, Governor, just, again, a remarkable effort, particularly protecting seniors in your state.
So I came to the job as FDA Commissioner after being a cancer doctor for over 30 years. And I know the power of hope, but I also know that false hope can be damaging. And what I saw today, the partnership of Tampa General and University of South Florida, gives me great hope.
What I saw was a partnership that developed a care plan that really accelerated and advanced the care of the patients with COVID-19 — something that we’re seeing across the country. That is something that gives me great hope for Americans who might be afflicted with COVID-19.
President Trump asked the FDA to reduce regulatory barriers to getting medical products out to Americans during this time of a public health emergency. And we set up something called the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program. And what we’ve seen over the last several months is just the incredible American biomedical research engine go forth. We now have a number of therapies that are available for patients, and that also gives me great hope.
We have remdesivir, that’s been mentioned, which has been shown to reduce the stay of hospitalization in sick COVID-19 patients.
We’ve seen a trial that’s shown us that corticosteroids, dexamethasone, and others have the potential for reducing mortality by 30 percent in sick hospitalized patients. And that has been mentioned here. We have convalescent plasma, and convalescent plasma, of course, has been used for years for patients who’ve had infectious diseases, where you take the liquid protein portion of a blood that has the immunity, the natural immunity from someone who’s recovered from COVID-19, and you give that to someone who’s sick.
We’ve seen some early encouraging results in 20,000 patients that’s been shown to be safe. And we have more than 28,000 patients in the U.S. who’ve been treated with convalescent plasma. And we’ll get some relatively — we’ll get some news relatively soon on the data on the effectiveness of this.
But one thing I want to tell Americans: If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you should contact your local blood bank, the American Red Cross, because this could be lifesaving for someone with COVID-19, and it would be great for you to go and to donate and provide that opportunity to someone who’s afflicted with the disease.
Just a moment to tell you about other things: There are 141 clinical trials that are currently ongoing and overseen by the FDA. There are more than 300 applications for therapeutics at the FDA right now. So, again, this great American biomedical research engine continues; the pipeline is robust.
A little bit about vaccines: I want to congratulate Secretary Azar and his incredible leadership of the Operation Warp Speed. In addition to Operation Warp Speed, there are a number of other vaccine manufacturers around the world that have vaccines that are in development. We’ve authorized to proceed in clinical trial four vaccines, another six manufacturers are with us with applications, and another a dozen or more are actually talking to us about vaccines.
So in, record time, from identification of this virus, which we have to remember occurred in January, we have a vaccine that now is in the middle stages of clinical trials, and we expect two of have them to be in the later stages of trials — phase three trials in July.
As was mentioned, we did issue guidance with respect to vaccine development. And one thing I want to assure the American people is that your FDA is on the job. We will not cut corners in our assessment to the vaccine. Our solemn promise to the American people is that we will look at the data associated with the vaccine, and we will make a decision about the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine using our typical high standards.
And so we all want, urgently, a vaccine. I think we’re making really good progress. I am cautiously optimistic, but FDA will be on the job, with respect to assessing its safety and efficacy.
Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Questions for me, any member of our team, or the Governor? I think we’ve got a little bit of time. Anyone?
Q Governor and Vice President Pence —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Governor. Governor?
Q Do you at all feel any kind of personal responsibility for the number of people who are getting sick from this virus, who are dying from it in Florida and across the country, when other states are seeing their cases go down, other countries are seeing their cases go down?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, from the time the President tapped me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, I and this whole team have been focused on one mission, and that was to save lives.
From the time the President suspended all travel from China, it gave our nation the opportunity to be able to stand up an extraordinary response — a response that took testing from roughly 8,000 coronavirus tests at the end of February to 35 million tests being done today all across the country; PPE being created and distributed literally by the billions; tens of thousands of ventilators being created.
And while we’ve seen cases rising across the Sun Belt, we’ve seen extraordinary progress in areas like the Greater New York City area, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Michigan, New Orleans. And that’s a real tribute to the American people, to the mitigation efforts that we were able to advance.
But let me also say, I really do believe that the people of Florida should be very proud of the work that they — you all did over the course of the first four months of this pandemic.
And now, as we see cases rising, we’re just very confident that with the Governor’s leadership, with this partnership, with cooperation of the people of Florida, that we’re going to be able to do what we’ve done in other parts of the country: We’re going to be able to flatten the curve; we’re going to be able to save lives; we’re going to be able, with all the extraordinary medical equipment, supplies, testing, and those therapeutics you just heard about, we’re going to — we’re going to be able to bring Florida all the way through this time and put it in the past.
But I just think — I think when you look at this pandemic — the way that it first hit in the northwest, hit in the northeast, and now has come to the south just over the last several weeks, it — it’s not one large pandemic, but rather pandemics that emerge individually.
The experts tell us it emerges individually in different regions. And we’ve made sure all those regions of the country had what they needed, when they needed it. And we’re going to make sure that happens in Florida and in all the states that are being impacted by this outbreak.
Q Governor, do you take any personal responsibility for — for the way that Florida has seen a steady increase over the last few months?
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Well, do you give credit for Florida for having much lower fatalities per 100,000 than all the states you just praised? I mean, we have fewer fatalities than some of these states have just in nursing homes, and we’re more populated than all those.
So we’ve worked very hard to protect the most vulnerable. We’ve done more to protect nursing homes and senior citizens than any state in the country. And I think that the numbers bear that out.
Now obviously, we built this apparatus of testing, of PPE, working with HHS to have the treatments for the hospitals, doing COVID-only nursing facilities. We put those online starting in April, you know, after the initial first peak, because we knew it’s an unpredictable virus. We weren’t sure what was going to happen. Some people said it was going to come back in the fall. I don’t think anyone predicted a Sun Belt resurgence in mid-June, but we had the infrastructure in place, and we’re in a much better place to be able to deal with this as a result of it.
And I would say, in dealing with some of the roundtable that we had earlier — you know, what the hospitals are seeing is a different class of patient than what they saw in March and April. You’re seeing people that are skewing a little younger, and I think the clinical outcomes are going to be better.
But we’re going to continue to work with the administration. We are going to provide even more support for our healthcare system. But I think that, you know, they’re in good shape, they’ve done a really good job, and we’re going to continue to be here to support it.
Q Mr. Vice President —
Q Governor, there have been a lot of protests —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, please. Question?
Q Vice President and Governor: In Arizona, they have seen an increase of the cases, and they are taking a step to close the economy. Here, we’re seeing an increase of the cases too. There’s any plan to close the economy here in Florida?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn’t catch the last part of the question. I’m sorry.
Q There’s any plan in the future, if we continue to see increase of the cases, to close again the economy here in Florida?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me say that I do think what’s happening in the Sun Belt — I was in Texas on Sunday; I was in Arizona yesterday — is very different than what happened two and three months ago. And we have a great deal more visibility on it.
Remember, at the outset of this pandemic here in Florida and across the country, as we were increasing testing, we focused testing on vulnerable populations and on people that had symptoms. And we also tested healthcare workers at a very significant rate because they were on the frontlines.
Now, with the ability to test five to six hundred thousand Americans a day, we’re testing a large number of people here in Florida and around the country that are asymptomatic. I mean, literally people that, as the Governor and I were discussing earlier, that many people that are presenting to be tested here in Florida don’t have symptoms at all; that they just believe they may have been exposed. And then there’s maybe 25 percent, in certain jurisdictions, are people that their employers, as Florida is going back to work, have told them to go and get a test.
All of that represents good news in the sense of, A, we know who has the coronavirus and we can take measures to protect the most vulnerable and to render healthcare to them if they need it. But the second is that because younger Americans don’t face the threat of serious illness from the coronavirus, we do believe that we’ll continue to see many people recover, and we hope with the dedication of our healthcare workers and the distribution of medicines, that we’ll continue to see fatalities either decline or remain low nationally and, we trust, across the Sun Belt.
So it’s a different time, and I think it calls for different measures. And I said earlier that when the President tapped me to do this, we had one mission, and that was to save lives. But when we came to the end of the “45 Days to Slow the Spread,” we had two missions: save lives and open up America again. And it’s the reason — one of the reasons we wanted to come today is because we wanted to express strong support for the prudent measures, the changes that the Governor has put in effect — focusing particularly on where we think much of the spread is occurring: among young people who may be gathering at particular facilities at certain times.
And — but our objective is the health of the people of Florida and America, and secondly, is to keep this economy moving forward so we can see more days like we saw today with nearly 5 million jobs created and getting our country back to work and back to school in the near future.
Q Mr. Vice President, this is the holiday weekend that’s approaching, and obviously, it’s time when Floridians go to the beach and have backyard cookouts and parties. Do you have concerns about that? And if we show a continued spread of this virus as the result of those congregations, would you then consider that we should perhaps back off on having the economy as open as it currently is?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the first principle I would respond with is that I think the reason why we’ve had the success slowing the spread in different places around the country — and, I mean, the remarkable progress we made in the Northeast, in New Orleans, in Michigan. And at this point, there are 12 states where we see rising cases and rising positivity numbers. But much of the country continues to do very well, and those economic numbers give evidence of that.
But one of the guiding principles from early on, as the President organized this Coronavirus Task Force, is that we trust our governors and we trust our states to make the decisions that are appropriate for their own circumstances.
When we stood up FEMA as the lead agency to operate in the midst of this pandemic, we adopted their mission, which is that our response would be federally supported, state-managed, and locally executed. We want to make sure healthcare workers have what they need, that we’re supporting the states.
But I think the success we’ve had is because governors like Governor DeSantis have been following the science, following the data. We’ve been focusing resources to support their efforts and to support mitigation at the point of the need. But — so we’d leave it to the governor for any decisions he had.
But I really do believe that if all of us will do all that we should do; if, over this coming holiday weekend, we practice social distancing, we wash our hands, good hygiene; we continue to be mindful of those most vulnerable around us, that we’ll make steady progress here in Florida and all across the Sun Belt.
Governor, did you want to respond to that?
AIDE: Last question.
Q For the governor, I have a question regarding the number of protests. We’ve seen a number of protests throughout the state and throughout the country. Do the rising number of coronavirus cases — do you attribute to some people wearing masks, some people not wearing masks? Are you doing any sort of contact tracing? Or do you attribute any of the numbers to the social movement that’s going on?
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Well, I think it’s a variety of factors. I mean, I do think that has contributed. I think it’s — there’s a lot of outbreaks in homes. If you look at some of the places — particularly in, like, a Miami-Dade, where there’s a lot of close living, multi-generational housing — you’ve seen some of those communities have a lot of problems.
And then, I think there has just been general — more social interactions, you know, as this, kind of, goes on. You know, we went — when we went to phase one in May, you know, we had a great — you know, it was very low cases, low positivity. I think the media was trying to say that the numbers were phony. Now they like the numbers because they’re higher. It’s funny how that works.
But that was, kind of, the thing. You actually had people spinning conspiracy theories, saying, “Oh, Florida is hiding,” because it was obviously very low, and some folks didn’t want to see that.
So, you know, you had that going. And I think what happened is the protests — obviously, whatever interaction — but then that took corona off the front pages, and really, for two weeks, you didn’t see very much about it. I think that sent a signal to some people that, “Hey, maybe we’re done with this.”
And I have always been very clear: You know, just by moving into a new phase, the virus doesn’t just disappear. I mean, we still got to deal with it. And doing certain things that are relatively minor, but can be important, really do make a difference.
I mean, you know, if you’re avoiding, you know, large crowds; avoiding, kind of, the close contact in really cramped indoor environments, you know, that’s going to go a long way. So it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything socially, but how you do it, you know, really matters.
So I think there’s been a whole variety of factors. I think the outbreak in Hillsborough and Tampa Bay is a little different than the outbreak in Dade and Broward. You know, Dade and Broward — I mean, they were basically closed for two months. They had a very soft, kind of, mini phase one, I think, in the middle of May. And they had actually stabilized and gone down.
And then now, particularly in the last two weeks, you know, you’re seeing a lot there, but specifically in communities, I think, where, you know, you do have a lot of the multi-generational housing. I think in a place like Orange County, it’s trended so low. I think that is being driven more by just the young people, 20-somethings going out, socializing. I do think some of the demonstrations may have played a role there — Tampa and Miami.
So it’s a whole variety of factors. And then I do think there’s just — you know, you look at Southern California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia now, all had different policies. Georgia was, quote, “early”; you know, Florida and Texas in between California and that, obviously. And yet, you’re seeing similar things.
And so I do think there’s some, perhaps, a seasonal component where the Sun Belt is seeing this. I know Dr. Birx has talked to researchers that think — what would — some of the — some of the Northeast spillover into the — into the South, maybe?
DR. BIRX: And the air conditioning.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Yeah. And then the air conditioning. You know, that’s why I’ve said when you’re doing things like, you know, Fourth of July, obviously be prudent. But you’re much better off, quite frankly, at a beach than you are packing into someone’s home in the air conditioning with this virus. This virus does not like sunlight, heat, and humidity, and I think you guys have shown that with research.
And then I think just seeing how different things react. You know, there’ll be different things where you’ll have a group of friends. They’ll get together — 10 people. Someone will test positive — 20-something, asymptomatic — calls the friends. They all — they all test positive. None of them have symptoms, none of them are actually sick, but just being in a closed environment together for an hour, you know, is enough for it to spread. Whereas you’ll have other examples — I mean, we’ve had people, you know, fishing, boating, golf, beach — the whole time, really — and we’ve not had outbreaks tied to those things.
And so there are things, I think, that you can do that are going to be much less risky. And that’s why, you know, when we’ve tried to, you know, talk about — obviously, people aren’t going to just sit in their closet the whole time. So they’re going to do things. But you can make choices that really do make a difference. And so we’re really trying to talk about that again now.
And then obviously, for the folks who are vulnerable in those older age groups or who are medically vulnerable, this is the time to continue — and our phases have always said you need to be avoiding crowds and staying home as much as you can and minimize contact.
And I’m not going to arrest a senior if they leave their home, but that’s the guidance because I think that that’s the smart thing to do. And, by and large, they’ve done it. As the positivity is gone, you know, much higher for the younger people, you know, seniors have been pretty, pretty steady. I think it may have gone up a little lately with the testing — but, I mean, by and large. So we want to continue to just stress that.
And if you look at the data in Florida, I think we have more corona-related fatalities age 90 and above than we’ve seen 65 and below. So you see the risk in the long-term care facilities, other folks who are in that age group. And then I would say, probably, below 50 — almost all of them have either been significant underlying condition. You do have some who clearly died from other causes, but they’re — they’re swabbing people now, so sometimes you’ll be asymptomatic with that.
So just understanding the risk, understanding who needs protection, you know, I think it’s very, very important. But there’s a lot of factors.
The good news — if you could say, with this being in the news more now — is I do think people are going to be more conscious of it when they’re going out and interacting during Fourth of July, in the way they may not have been for Memorial Day.
And so if everyone is, you know, enjoying life, but doing it responsibly, you know, we’re going to be fine. We’ll get that positivity rate down.
Remember, when I — when we went to phase one, we increased the testing capacity in this state way beyond what we had in March and April. And the reason is, is we wanted to continue to test, we wanted to see if there — if there were outbreaks. I said you’re going to have more cases just because it’s an asymptomatic illness for a lot of younger people. But we’d rather be back at that 4 — 3, 4 percent, where we were for, really, months and months, and not be in the 15 percent. And so that’s really what we’re looking at, and it’s been pretty consistently 10 to 15 percent for probably the last 10 days now.
So the number of cases, you know, is less important to me than whether we’re having a lower percentage because I think that’s an indication that, if it’s lower, it’s not circulating through the community, you know, as rapidly as it is when you get it at 10 or 15.
Now, put that in perspective — and I think Dr. Birx could underscore — I mean, there were some parts of the country that were testing probably at 50 or 60 percent, you know, when — when it was really at the high point in some of those communities.
And so, you know, this is something that we’re obviously concerned about. You know, we want to be able to get it back down. But, you know, we’re in a much better position to be able to deal with that than some of the other states who had the real serious spikes and, quite frankly, just didn’t have all the great resources, you know, that we’ve now been able to build up over these many months.
Q Is the convention still coming to Jacksonville?
AIDE: All right. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: How about one more?
Q The convention — is it coming to Jacksonville still? What are your thoughts at this point?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me — let me go over here to this — for this question.
Q Thank you. My question was actually about the RNC.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q Because we’ve been seeing this uptick in cases over the last couple of weeks — you know, it started at 4,000; now it’s about 5,000 a day; overnight, it was 10,000. Would you recommend that anyone who is older or may be has a preexisting, underlying condition, that they not attend the Republican National Convention? Would you yourself feel comfortable if the numbers right now are like that in a month and a half?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me say, the — we’re excited about coming to Jacksonville. And I was in a meeting, not long ago, when I heard about some very sophisticated plans to make sure it’s a safe and healthy environment.
But our job right now is to — is to do everything in our power to support the efforts of your governor and the people of Florida to bring these numbers down, and we believe that we can. And it is July the 2nd — a few days before the Fourth of July — and we have, we believe, an opportunity in front of us now, beginning right now, for every one of us to take personal responsibility for the role that we’re playing here.
You know, no one wants to — no one wants to see these numbers where they are, or no one wants to see them go up. And we really do believe that because we are in such a better place today, with regard to massive amounts of testing — and we’re going to be working with your governor to use that pooling methodology that you just heard described at this podium to work with your healthcare system here to even expand testing beyond that.
We’re going to — we’re going to make sure — while PPE is strong right now and your ventilator supply is strong, we’re going to make sure that the people of Florida can rest easy, healthcare workers can rest easy. They know they can have it. We’re going to continue to distribute therapeutics and do our part.
But for each and every one of us, it’s important we remember we’re all in this together. And the way that we slowed the spread and flattened the curve in other parts of the country was by people taking ownership for their own behavior, by protecting the most vulnerable among them, and by practicing those commonsense personal hygiene, social distancing methods that we first outlined in “45 Days to Slow the Spread.”
As I said, we really believe — and I know your governor does, too; and I can assure you your President does — that we don’t have to choose between good health and a strong economy. I mean, the American people know America works when America is working. And the numbers today suggest that America is going back to work.
And we’re very confident that if people will heed the guidance of state and local officials, if we’ll take personal responsibility to see to our own social distancing and protect the vulnerable among us, that we’ll do what other parts of the country have done: We’ll flatten the curve, we’ll slow the spread, we’ll save lives along the way, and we’ll make it possible for great events to happen here in Florida — not just the RNC, but make it possible for our — for Florida to once again be the great destination for so many Americans who love to come and enjoy the Sunshine State and all the great attractions and all the great beaches here.
But our job right now is to make sure your governor and the people of Florida know that, at President Trump’s direction, we’re going to make sure you have what you need, when you need it, and then some. We’re going to make sure that Florida has the resources, the medicines, the testing, and the supplies to meet this moment. And with the cooperation of the people of Florida and with God’s help, we’ll get through this, and we’ll get through this together.
Thank you all very much.
4:29 P.M. EDT