"I'm trying to thread a needle here," DeSantis said.
As the number of cases and deaths related to COVID-19 — the illness caused by the novel coronavirus — rise dramatically in Florida, the debate over how best to contain the virus and keep it from spreading goes on.
Florida approached 2,000 cases late Wednesday, with 510 new cases. The 34 percent increase was the largest single jump in one day as the state pushes forward on aggressively testing people who are over 65, have underlying medical conditions and present the worst symptoms.
With Florida lagging the nation on social distancing requirements, public health officials, epidemiologists and politicians have urged him to shut down the Sunshine State before it becomes the next hot zone like New York City.
Democrats in particular are piling on: “Our state is in trouble and we need to slow the spread of this virus before our healthcare system drowns in a wave of critically sick patients," Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, also has criticized DeSantis for not taking bolder action.
“Floridians deserve science-based action from Gov. Ron DeSantis," Biden said. “While other large states continue to take strong, urgent, and sweeping action to stop the spread of COVID-19, Florida has not.”
On the other hand, Republicans are lauding DeSantis' actions and leadership: “My feeling on the ground is it’s getting better already,” Congressman Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, told the Panama City News Herald Wednesday.
Dunn — a surgeon who has specialized in advanced prostate cancer — told the newspaper he believes the current coronavirus response will help “get us back into the normal pattern of rebuilding ourselves ... People will go back to the stores, they will go back to work, they will go back to the beach.”
He expects the worst of the virus will be over by Easter, in line with President Donald Trump’s goal of reopening America for business by April 12, Easter Sunday.
Researchers from Harvard Global Health Center and Stanford have produced studies showing the dramatic impact that enforced stay-at-home requirements can have on flattening the curve of the infection's spread, buying time for hospitals to adjust to the onslaught of patients with severe symptoms.
"I'm trying to thread a needle here," DeSantis said at a news conference Wednesday.
He also said he's received positive remarks from Dr. Deborah Birx, the president's Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, a task force member and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"Dr. Birx said yesterday what a thoughtful, data-driven approach Florida has had," DeSantis said. "Dr. Fauci said not every instrument is appropriate in every population in the country."
The state is already reeling from shutdowns, including the closure of bars, nightclubs, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and outdoor gatherings of more than 10. The larger, more urban counties and cities have also ordered shutdowns of nonessential business, forcing folks to stay at home.
Meantime, hundreds of thousands of Floridians have been laid off or fired and filed for unemployment. More than 3 million unemployment claims were filed in the U.S.; a $2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress Wednesday is supposed to help relieve some of the economic burden.
DeSantis has supported local governments that want to impose stricter lockdowns, but has been reluctant to make that a statewide edict for fear of its economic impact.
Some parts of the state have fewer cases, he said, and an issue to order someone to stay home and not earn a paycheck isn't appropriate "when them going to work is not going to have any effect on what we're doing with the virus."
He said he has to think of the 'second order' effect: "When New York did this, it caused thousands of people to flee. Look at California ... (that) ordered people to stay at home ... but thousands of people are on the beach, partying."
DeSantis has received criticism for not clamping down on Spring Break activities or ordering a statewide shutdown of all beaches.
Instead, he turned his focus on locking down travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, forcing them to self-quarantine for 14 days or face $500 fines, complaining that those travelers are bringing the virus to Florida.
But those travelers are a very small group compared to the vast number of Floridians who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Only 110 non-Florida residents have confirmed positive, and only a handful of those are recent arrivals from the Tri-state area.
There are 1,867 Floridians known to have contracted the coronavirus, which causes the potentially deadly COVID-19 disease. It's an acute respiratory infection spread person-to-person by droplets sneezed or coughed into the air.
About 51% of the cases in South Florida, made up of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. That also happens to be where 40% of all tests are being done.
DeSantis and his administrative team are also focused on getting supplies out to health care workers and first responders. More than a million N95 masks have been ordered, and more are in the state's Central Florida warehouse to be distributed where they are needed most, which has mainly been to South Florida.
"Our resources have been driven by the facts, and fortunately you’ve not had as many cases in Central Florida," DeSantis said.
Dale Ewart, acting executive vice president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state's largest health care workers union, has urged the governor to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"(T)hese committed caregivers are afraid and upset that the public well-being and their own safety are not being adequately served by the State," Ewart said in a letter sent to the governor, the surgeon general, the head of the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Division of Emergency Management.
"PPE shortages have caused great concern and fear among our caregivers. Even at this early stage of what is expected to be a lengthy public health emergency, we have reached a crisis point in these shortfalls."
This story will be updated throughout the day.
Contact Jeff Schweers at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.