TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried launched a campaign Monday aimed at getting Floridians to follow coronavirus health and social-distancing recommendations.

The announcement came as Florida continues to add thousands of new cases each day of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and as deaths of Florida residents have topped 7,000.

It also came after Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced an initiative, dubbed “One Goal One Florida,” that included urging Floridians to take steps such as wearing face masks and washing their hands to prevent the spread of the disease.

Fried and other Democrats have criticized DeSantis for weeks about his handling of the pandemic, including his refusal to require people to wear masks throughout the state.

Fried, during a news conference Monday at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Conner Building, rolled out what will be a series of short videos and audio spots calling for people to “Be Smart Florida.”

Fried said the campaign, recorded in English and Spanish, is designed to “remind Floridians of the essential science-based measures we must all do to slow the spread.” Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said she’d like DeSantis to get involved in her effort but had not reached out to him.

“This is about really trying to unite all of us with one message,” Fried said. “I certainly hope that the governor and the rest of the leadership in the state kind of follows. And we can finally do this together. Yes, I have been critical of the governor. But also, in every breath that I’ve said, it always has to be state before a party. And I continue to put out my hand on wanting to work together on getting through this.”

Fried is frequently mentioned as a potential challenger to DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial race.

Last week, DeSantis, in a televised address from the Capitol, expressed being “100 percent confident” the state could overcome the virus by protecting seniors and other vulnerable people and by residents taking steps such as practicing proper hygiene, practicing social distancing and wearing face masks when in close contact with others.

“We are Americans. We’re a strong decent people who have overcome difficult times throughout our history. We will continue to contend with the virus, but we will not be defined by it,” DeSantis said Thursday.

On Monday, DeSantis expressed optimism the state saw a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations during the third week of July and that it has had downward trends in coronavirus-related visits to emergency rooms.

“Floridians have really stepped up to the plate and done a great job,” DeSantis said Monday while at Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale. “As I said, we’ve got a lot of work to do. The trends are a lot better today than they were a month ago. So, we want to build on that success. And if we do it with one goal as one Florida, I’m confident we’re going to be able to get that done.”

The state Department of Health reported 4,752 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and 73 more deaths attributed to the virus. In all, the state has reported 491,884 cases of the virus, with 7,157 Florida resident deaths.

Fried said the state should be conducting a COVID-19 campaign similar to messages that appear from Monroe County to the Panhandle about wearing seat belts.

“We should be having an outward communication with the citizens of our state to say, ‘Look, this is from your leadership,’” Fried said. “Leadership is telling you to wear a mask. Leadership is telling you to social distance, telling you to avoid crowds and to wash your hands. And to make sure that you’re doing everything in your power to protect yourself and your family members and your loved ones.”

Fried said her office started working on the awareness campaign three or four weeks ago as an in-house project to keep down the cost. Among people who have agreed to record spots are former Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning, Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and entertainer and entrepreneur DJ Irie.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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