By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Gov. Ron DeSantis sat down with CBS4’s Jim DeFede for his first one-on-one interview since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

They touched on a variety of topics from the governor’s handling of the crisis to the perception he’s “tethered” to the Trump administration.

UNEMPLOYMENT WAGE

DeFede asked the governor if he should raise the state’s unemployment wage. Currently, benefits max out at $275 a week, which is one of the lowest benefits in the country.

DeSantis: I would look at it. I don’t think I can unilaterally do it. I think we would have to have the legislature come in.

DeFede: Why not call a special session to examine it? I mean, people are right now only going to get at most $275.

DeSantis: First of all, there will definitely be more federal assistance, even apart from the unemployment. I can tell you there’s going to be another 1,200 dollars, most likely, that’s going to go out to folks and there is going to be some form of a federal unemployment supplement. So I’m going to look to see what happens with that. Look, if we need to act in Florida, I’ll be happy to do it. But at the end of the day, there is going to be a phase four package from the federal government. I’m not in the Congress anymore, thankfully, but I know that that something’s going to come down the pike.

REOPENING SCHOOLS

DeFede asked the governor if he supports the plans by Miami-Dade and Broward Public Schools to open virtually and evaluate as the year progresses without any guarantee that in-class teaching will resume this year.

DeSantis: Well, look the idea that we wouldn’t have any brick and mortar for the rest of the year, that’s not…

DeFede: Well, doesn’t the virus dictate it?

DeSantis: The virus does dictate it, but we should also be mindful of the trends. I mean, I think that you wouldn’t want to make the decision in the middle of July when we are at our apex. So you’re looking now. I think we may see some good trends. My view would be, look, be flexible, don’t get dug in to not having in-person infinitum, obviously respond to local conditions. But one of my big concerns, and we highlighted this the other day in the Tampa Bay and Clearwater, special needs students. The virtual doesn’t work for special needs students. We’ve got to have an option for them at a minimum to have in-person instruction. I hope all districts, you know, will try to get that done as soon as possible.

DeFede: I just want to be clear. Are you in conflict at all with what the local school districts in South Florida have done so far?

DeSantis: I think we want to work with them. We understand their unique situations. I would just make sure that as long as the goal is to give the parents the choice, and they’re going to work to get that done as soon as they can, you know, I don’t have any rigid timetable for because I understand their circumstances on the ground.

WATCH CBS4 EXCLUSIVE: Jim DeFede’s Full 1-On-1 Interview With Gov. Ron DeSantis

 

PANDEMIC RESPONSE

DeFede pressed the governor on his response to the pandemic. DeFede brought up a viral moment during a May press conference where the governor touted that Florida hadn’t become the next epicenter as predicted. But the clip didn’t age well after the explosion of cases across the state.

DeFede: Since you said that basically we had succeeded, an additional 450,000 people have now tested positive and more than 5,000 people have died. What happened?

DeSantis: So we got through the first phase. That was the whole point of the flatten the curve. I never said that we were not going to have to deal with the virus. It wasn’t going away. Now, we didn’t know when we would have to face any type of surge, but we saw, just like all the other states in our region saw it, towards the end of June. But you know what? We were prepared for it. You know, we had the systems in place. We had the resources in place. It’s not been easy. Part of it is the testing. I mean, if you look at the amount of testing that’s been done, it’s pretty frequent. We’ll have 100,000 test results in a single day.

DeFede: Do you think we’re doing too much testing?

DeSantis: Well, I think that we should really focus on better turnaround times with the labs for the folks who are symptomatic or in the at risk groups. What’s happening with the asymptomatic is if you test somebody, I can’t tell you whether you have live virus because you can test positive. The CDC says you can test positive for 12 weeks now. So when someone comes that’s asymptomatic, takes them a week to get the test results, they’re not infectious most likely at that point even if they were infected.

DeFede: I just want to stay with the idea of the message that you sent on May 20th – and whether or not your positive message that we’ve succeeded basically gave people the impression that the battle was over, we had won and that people could go about their lives again, which then also caused the resurgence to happen.

DeSantis: So OK, that’s one little clip. But then what about all the actions we are taking during that time? I mean, if I thought it was over, I wouldn’t have set up all the COVID-only nursing facilities. I wouldn’t have done all these new test sites. I wouldn’t have sent, you know, more PPE to the nursing homes. So we continue to act and continue to prepare for the virus to resurge.

DeFede: Do you think that you could have done more in terms of communicating to idea that everyone in Florida should be wearing a mask? ‘Again, I don’t want to have a mandated, but everyone must start wearing masks.’

DeSantis: Well, we have communicated. I mean, when I put it out there, when we first added to our guidelines, no one was talking about it at the time. It was almost like I don’t even know if it made any news because it wasn’t political yet. And so we do want everyone to do that, particularly in close contact. But I also think it’s important to just be honest with people. You know, the masks, there’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific literature about how much protection that gives you. So I just don’t want people to think that you do the masks to the exclusion of all the other stuff.

‘TETHERED’ TO TRUMP

DeFede also brought up to the governor the Washington Post’s claim that he’s ‘tethered’ to the Trump administration in following their lead in everything according to the pandemic.

DeSantis: First of all, that’s just a phony narrative. I mean, they were trying to say some of the decisions I made had something to do. I had no contact on a lot of these decisions. So we’re doing what’s best for Florida. I will say that they’ve been a great ally for Florida. I mean, when we’ve needed help. So, for example, some of the hospitals are running low on the remdesivir, which is a therapeutic, because, you know, we had a lot of hospital admission a couple of weeks ago. And there’s a big bureaucratic process involved with that. I was able to pick up the phone, call the president, say, ‘Mr. President, I know they’re supposed to come a week from now. I need it three days.’ And guess what? They showed up in three days.

DeFede: Last week was the deadliest week that the state of Florida has had. Four days last week, they set records. We set records on the number of deaths. Where do you see things today?

DeSantis: Well, one, I mean, I think it was it’s it was a rough week to have those reports. I would say, though, that when they’re reporting that’s not that the fatalities necessarily occur. They’ve been kind of occurring. We know when we started to see the surge of people going into the EDs, the hospitalizations increase, you know, then unfortunately, you know, we were gonna see some painful outcomes. Although, I will say, if you look at the recovery rates, comparing Florida to some other places that have been hit, people are actually recovering, too. And I think that that story doesn’t always get out there.

DeFede: The Sun-Sentinel ran an editorial: ‘Help us out, Gov. DeSantis. We’re dying here.’ And they wrote your daily upbeat message is at odds with what Floridians are going through. Do you think that you have tended to try to find positive elements at the risk of sounding out of touch?

DeSantis: Absolutely not. I mean, first of all, everything that’s presented typically is presented negative. So there’s a lot of negative that people have… So I’ve always talked about this being a serious challenge. You know, when we saw the increases in hospitalizations, we surged personnel down. We’re getting remdesivir. We’re always responsive to what’s going on. And we understand what families are going through. I mean, for example, some of the protective measures we’ve done with nursing homes. That has saved lives because we’ve kept virus from spreading more than it would have. But we haven’t had visitation for these folks since the middle of March. That is a huge human cost to families who just would like to be able to have that human contact. So I understand how difficult the situation is. But I think there’s also the question: Do you want to be in a defeatist posture? Or do you want to be in a posture that say, ‘You know what? We’re Americans. We can handle this. We’ve handled difficult things before. We are going to get through this and we shouldn’t let fear overcome our sense of purpose.’

DeFede: A cynic might say that your change of tone matches the fact that your poll numbers have dropped.

DeSantis: I’ve not taken a poll since I’ve been governor, believe it or not. So I didn’t care about them… As a leader, you got to do, you’ve got to lead. And particularly at a time when there’s a lot of fear and apprehension, obviously, it’s being driven in certain directions. There’s a lot of partisanship.

Jim DeFede

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