The head of the House’s select committee responsible for investigating the government’s coronary response is asking Florida government Ron DeSantis for his correspondence with the Trump administration to determine why Florida did not follow the recommendations of the White House Coronavirus for Reducing Spread.
Democratic Republic of South Carolina Jim Clyburn sent a letter to DeSantis and Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday after the latest policy guidelines from the task force appear to be stricter than current policies in the occurred in most of Florida. The last federal report was compiled on July 26 but was not made public until Tuesday when the New York Times published it.
“In light of the alarming deaths of coronavirus cases and deaths in Florida, I am concerned that the Trump administration will seek to keep public health recommendations secret instead of publicly communicating the importance of these measures to the American people and ensures that they are followed, “Clyburn wrote. “I am writing to request information on the private guidance the administration has provided to Florida and whether it plans to implement those recommendations and take other critical actions to reduce the spread of coronavirus throughout the state.”;
The DeSantis office defended its actions and noted in a statement that “of course [DeSantis] takes the recommendations of the White House Task Force seriously and appreciates their service. “The office has not committed to provide documents or communications to Congress, which Clyburn requested by August 12th.
DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo said that while DeSantis believes in hand washing, social distance and wearing a mask when social distance is not possible, he does not believe in ” criminalization of the mask issue nor does it feel like it is a good use of law enforcement resources. ”
“The governor is acting in the best interests of the citizens of Florida,” Piccolo said.
The task force groups Florida counties into “red” or “yellow” categories, and considers 49 counties in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, located in the “red” zone. counties reported at least 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week and a test positivity rate of at least 10%. An additional 17 countries are in the “yellow” zone, meaning they reported 10 to 100 new cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 5-10%. Public health experts say positivity rates should be below 5% before governments reopen.
The letter from Clyburn lists five task force recommendations that Florida is not following now.
The task force recommends closing all stores for counties in the red zone and limiting capacity to 25% for counties in the yellow zone. The gyms in Miami-Dade County are still open. It also recommends limiting indoor food capacity to 25%. While indoor dining in Miami-Dade County is banned, the state allows many countries to operate restaurants with 50% capacity.
It also recommends that social gatherings be limited to 10 or fewer people in red areas and 25 or fewer people in yellow areas. Florida’s recommendations are more lenient, encouraging people to limit meetings to 50 people or less. The White House has also recommended mask mandates at all businesses in Florida, but the state does not require the use of masks at all businesses.
And Florida has not imposed a state-wide mask order in all public spaces, despite the need for public health officials and some politicians. The task force recommends mask orders in all countries with increasing rates of test positivity, which applies to places like the Florida Keys and Jacksonville. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties saw little change in their test positivity rates from July 18 to 24, according to the report, although their rates remain among the highest in the state, and other large counties such as Hillsborough have seen declines.
“The task force report privately recommended that Florida implement these health measures to help reverse the dangerous level in cases across the state and to prevent unnecessary deaths,” Clyburn wrote. “Non-compliance allows the virus to spread, prolong and exacerbate the public health crisis facing the state. We urge you to act quickly and order science-based public health measures.”
Clyburn leads the A Subcommittee of the Select House on the Coronavirus Crisis, set up by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in April to provide congressional oversight of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus. Republicans initially objected to the formation of the special committee but have since appointed legislators to the board. Clyburn’s letter was not signed by any Republicans.
Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith is one of several state and federal lawmakers who have called for a mask rule. The Orlando Democrat sent a formal letter to make the request to DeSantis in the first week of July.
He said DeSantis is lengthening the spread of the disease in Florida by refusing to do what other leaders have done in the obligations of counties that have rising positivity rates for mandate masks. Smith said the issue has become political.
“The logic of not issuing the mask mandate when our state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the South, in the United States and in the world is annoying,” Smith said. “What is the reason other than politics? Governor DeSantis is making a political decision. He is refusing to do what is in the best interest of the health and safety of Floridians, simply to oust Trump and its voting base. Period. “
On July 17, 12 of the 13 Democrats in the Florida congress sent a similar letter to DeSantis asking for a state mask order as local leaders across the state issued the their own mandates.
Clyburn also sent a letter to Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, leaders of the White House Task Force, requesting guidance they provided to states related to the July 26 recommendations. And letters similar to the one sent to DeSantis were also sent to the governors of Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee.
“Although it has apparently provided private suggestions to state governments, many states have not implemented these recommendations – and instead appear to be following the contradictory public messages coming from the administration,” Clyburn wrote.