MIAMI – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez met on Tuesday in Miami to discuss an effort to isolate long-term-care facility residents with COVID-19 and to tout an increase in coronavirus testing.
But as South Florida takes a beating during the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis showed little interest on the role of contact tracers, the public health detectives who identify the people who have come into contact with a COVID-19 patient.
“I have already green-lighted $138 million for the Department of Health to support not just contact tracing but other personnel,” DeSantis said. “All the counties have gotten huge amounts of money from the CARES Act. The contact tracing is something that can be done.”
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease physician with more than 30 years of experience in clinical medicine and pathology, said authorities need to understand there is a need for “an army” of contact tracers in Miami-Dade County’s hot zones.
“We definitely do not have enough contact tracers,” Marty said “We are hovering at about 200.”
Gimenez said Miami-Dade County depends on the Florida Department of Health to hire and manage the contact tracers. In this way, Gimenez blamed the lack of effectiveness of the current outbreak management strategy on DeSantis and DeSantis blamed it on Gimenez.
Marty said academics in South Florida have offered to help DOH run an effective program that can help politicians to have the data they need to make better decisions.
“We have not been doing this part of the puzzle for this disease which is part of the reason we have continued to have a problem with the transmission,” Marty said.
DeSantis downplayed the role of contact tracing, saying it is an insufficient component when you have “a largely asymptomatic illness” and young people don’t cooperate.
Contact tracing is a core public health function and can help contain #COVID19 in 3 main steps:— Florida Dept. Health (@HealthyFla) June 18, 2020
1⃣You test positive for COVID-19
2⃣An epidemiologist will ask who you’ve been in contact with in the last 2 weeks
3⃣Your county health department will monitor you and your contacts pic.twitter.com/tMzhq9bmon
Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who was diagnosed with COVID-19, told CNN on Tuesday that Florida’s contact tracing effort is “a joke.”
“We have already contracted with a company that we’ve paid $61 million to who said they were doing contact tracing. I want to know what happened to the $61 million,” Jones said.
Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, also a Democrat, was at the news conference and described DeSantis’ response on contact tracing as “absurd and infuriating.”
“Miami-Dade County does not have direct control over the health department here because that reports to the Florida Department of Health,” Rodriguez said.
DeSantis said his message during the news conference on Tuesday was to announce that Miami-Dade now has “the proper isolation procedures” to protect the vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of severe illness when infected increases with age.
DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette M. Nuñez and Gimenez met at the new Miami Care Center, an old facility that was recently adapted to offer temporary housing to 150 long-term-care facility residents who are diagnosed with COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County.
Gimenez said the new facility is going to be of “tremendous help” to open up more hospital bed capacity during the coronavirus pandemic. Mary Mayhew, the secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, agreed and said the facility is going to help save lives.
“Not only is that population the most vulnerable to fatality. The residential setting is at greatest risk for rapid transmission,” Mayhew said.
The AHCA, which regulates the state’s long-term care facilities, refers to this facility as one of 12 COVID-19 isolation centers in Florida. It receives funding from the Florida Division of Emergency Management and is operated by the for-profit Avante Group.
DeSantis did not disclose how much the state is spending on the isolation centers. He also didn’t address Jones’ criticism of the state’s contact tracing program.