After it was announced that Covid-19 cases had again spiked in both Florida and Texas last week, the states’ Republican governors both placed the blame on increased testing, as well as outbreaks in higher-risk areas such as jails and care homes. Pleas to introduce stronger safety measures regarding face masks from the public and health officials have been dismissed by the two governors.
Despite the sight of teeming bars and restaurants in Florida being seen by the rest of the world, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis denied that his decision to aggressively reopen the Florida economy over recent weeks contributed to the surge in coronavirus cases. Instead, the 41-year-old, who has been governor of Florida since January last year, seemed to place the blame wholly on migrant families.
DeSantis cited poor and crowded living conditions amongst migrant families, before going on to announce that the state would begin to take a more detailed look at the spread of the virus among labourers and construction workers, who, according to DeSantis are ‘overwhelmingly Hispanic’.
The former naval officer highlighted outbreaks at a watermelon farm in Alachua County and in a migrant community known as Indiantown in Martin County, suggesting that the ‘close contact’ between members of those households, coupled with the work environment of labourers ‘are really providing areas for the virus to thrive.’
“Some of these guys — they go to work in a school bus, and they are all just like packed there like sardines, going across like Palm Beach County or some of these other places, and (there’s) all these opportunities to have transmission,” DeSantis said Tuesday, adding that some of the workers are “migratory” and that the state’s health department is alerting Georgia and Alabama about “what may be coming down the pike.”
“So no, we’re not shutting down, we’re going to go forward,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to continue to protect the most vulnerable. We’re going to urge, continue to advise, particularly our elderly population to maintain social distancing, avoid crowds.”
Similarly, Texas Governor Greg Abbott did not believe that decisions to quickly reopen many parts of the economy have played a part in the new rise in Covid-19 cases and insisted there was no cause for concern as the state’s hospital bed capacity is in a much better position than at the start of the pandemic. The Republican wore a mask to his press conference but has denied a request from nine Texas mayors to allow them to make masks mandatory in their cities.
“Yet many people in many of our cities are still refusing to wear these face coverings even though these coverings are scientifically proven to help prevent the disease from spreading,” the mayors wrote in their letter Tuesday. “If mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.” The mayors of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie, all from different places on the political spectrum, signed the letter.
Instead, Abbott suggested that mayor and city officials use other measures to attempt to stop the spread of the virus, including fining those that host or attend large, inappropriate gatherings. However, many feel that these actions will not be sufficient and that the governor’s reluctance to impose sanctions on those refusing to wear masks means the public will take the matter less seriously.
The 62-year-old attributed the rise in cases over the last week or so to a collection of positive tests that all came in on the same day from Texas prisons, as well as a major data error in rural Pecos County.
Both governors have claimed that they were always expecting a rise in coronavirus numbers when testing capacity increased. However, this sentiment has not been echoed by the experts.
Epidemiologists, those who study the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions in populations, have instead stated that they expect case numbers to decrease with greater testing capacity, as health officials ought to be able to trace and therefore slow the spread of the virus.
“As we continue the process of opening up Texas – as we continue to have Texans return to their jobs, so that they are able to earn a paycheck that will help them pay their bills and put food on their tables,” Abbott said during his own press conference, “…we remain laser focused on maintaining abundant hospital capacity.”
“I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that same message,” Abbott said when asked about the letter from nine Texas mayors. “So all of us have a collective responsibility to educate the public that wearing a mask is the best thing to do. Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach.”