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Former CDC epidemiologist presses Florida Gov. DeSantis to issue a statewide stay-at-home order: 'Shut down everything’

Governor Ron DeSantis Screengrab

From New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy to Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, many governors in northeastern states have been aggressively promoting statewide social distancing measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic — which, according to researchers for the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 40,700 people worldwide. But in Florida, far-right Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been drawing criticism for not issuing a statewide stay-at-home order — and one of his most vocal critics this week has been epidemiologist Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.


Mokdad’s research on coronavirus and the U.S.  has been cited by Trump’s coronavirus task force, including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Mokdad, a former epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is calling for DeSantis to issue a stay-at-home order for the entire state. And not being more aggressive at the state level, Mokdad warns, will cause coronavirus to spread more rapidly in Florida and overwhelm the state’s health care system in the weeks ahead.

According to Mokdad, research and data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show that Florida’s battle with coronavirus could peak in early May and possibly lead to thousands of deaths by the time summer arrives.

Mokdad told the Miami Herald, “These estimations are based on (the expectation that) Florida will implement stay-at-home measures within a week from now. We’re assuming next Monday, this will be in place. If they don’t, these numbers will go up.”

The epidemiologist also told the Miami Herald that he planned to speak to Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Monday, March 30 and “strongly recommend shutting down everything” all over the state. And the following day, according to the Herald, Mokdad confirmed to the Herald that his meeting with Rivkees had taken place.

Journalist Gray Rohrer, in a March 30 article for the Orlando Sentinel, notes that many of the social distancing orders in Florida have been made at the local level.

In Florida, Rohrer notes, “Some counties, such as Orange, Osceola, Miami-Dade and Broward, have issued shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders for all non-essential workers and businesses, with some including curfews. Others, like Seminole, have taken measures such as limiting businesses to 30% of their occupational limit. The Friday order from Seminole authorities came one day after they said a stronger stay- home order wasn’t needed, rejecting the Orange and Osceola approach.”

Rohrer points out that DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for four counties in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe) but not for the entire state. Under that order, residents of those counties are being urged to only leave their homes for essential activities such as going to a supermarket or a pharmacy.

However, some medical experts have been asserting that DeSantis needs to be more aggressive about social distancing all over Florida. In a joint letter, a group of doctors in Collier County, Florida urged DeSantis to issue a statewide state-at-home order.

DeSantis has also been strongly criticized over recent images of South Florida beaches being packed with students on spring break. But DeSantis, on March 28, told reporters that he doesn’t consider those beaches to be as dangerous as “closed spaces.”

The Florida governor asserted, “When you’re talking about a respiratory virus, being in closed spaces with close contact is the way that it is transmitted. If you have a family that’s just sitting out there in sunshine, heat and humidity in an open space, that’s not as big of a problem.”

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