ORLANDO, Fla. — Comments made by Gov. Ron DeSantis during a news conference about COVID-19 cases at an unidentified Central Florida airport were "clarified" by the airport in question Wednesday.
What You Need To Know
- DeSantis trying to say increased testing exposes more cases
- Airport says 260 cases he said were not found among 500 workers tested
- Airport: 132 workers tested over 2 1/2 months, numbers included close contacts
- Florida Dept. of Health "erred in not making the information more clear"
- CORONAVIRUS: Latest Dept. of Health Statistics | Florida COVID-19 Dashboard
DeSantis, in his remarks in Tallahassee on Tuesday afternoon, pointed to instances of testing in clusters to show how increased testing has led to more COVID-19 cases being found, which he said explained why the number of positive cases in the state has increased in the past two weeks.
"(An) airport in Central Florida had a couple cases; they did the contact-tracing," DeSantis said. "They looked over almost 500 workers, 260 working close together positive, 52 percent positivity rate on that one."
VIDEO: DeSantis on Coronavirus Cases at a Central Florida Airport
The Governor's Office confirmed to Spectrum News on Wednesday afternoon that DeSantis was referring to Orlando International Airport.
"Governor DeSantis has emphasized the benefit of testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing throughout the state," Communications Director Helen Ferre said. "MCO had 132 employees test positive for COVID-19. Through contact tracing of those employees, an additional 128 individuals not associated with the airport tested positive for COVID-19 resulting in 260 total positive cases.
"We appreciate MCO’s commitment to working with the Orange County Health Department, the Florida Department of Health and for ensuring best practices are followed for the health and safety of all employees and visitors to the airport," Ferre added.
DeSantis's remarks prompted Orlando International Airport CEO Phil Brown on Wednesday to clear up "any misinterpretation of the data presented to the public."
Brown said the Florida Health Department conducted 500 coronavirus tests over three days. Of those tests, only two positive tests came back, with a positivity rate of 0.4 percent from those tests.
"(Dr. Raul Pino, public health director for Orange County) also advised that he believes the use of masks and facial coverings at MCO and the observance of social distancing is a significant contributor to the low positivity rates,” Brown said.
He added that Orange County tracking information between mid-March and June 6 show a total of 132 employees from all aspects of airport business, including airlines, rental car companies, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Aviation Authority, tested positive for coronavirus.
In addition, using contract tracing, an additional 128 individuals tested positive. They were not airport employees, but they had connections to the 132 people who worked at the airport who did test positive.
That gives a grand total of 260 people, which is the number DeSantis quoted in his example.
“I hope this information clarifies what can be a confusing mix of data for the traveling public," Brown said.
A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Health backed up Brown's statement.
"The number of cases at Orlando International Airport is cumulative from March 2020 and includes household close contacts as determined through the extensive epidemiological investigations conducted by the Department of Health," said Alberto Moscoso of the Health Department. "These cases were all identified from and associated with positive COVID-19 cases linked to the airport. Through collaboration with airport and local authorities and thorough efforts in contact tracing, all the cases were linked and notified."
When asked how DeSantis could have made such an error, Moscoso said it was the agency's fault.
"The Department of Health provided this information to the governor’s office," Moscoso said. "The department erred in not making that information more clear and we regret the confusion."
Airport workers at Orlando International Airport also voiced their concerns Wednesday during a Greater Orlando Aviation Authority meeting about safeguarding employees against the virus.
After hearing these concerns, leaders instituted a mask mandate requiring all employees with a security badge from the aviation authority to wear a face covering at the airport.
Florida has seen a steady increase in new coronavirus cases over the last few weeks, with 2,473 new cases reported by the state in just the last day. The percentage of positive cases based on testing has also risen higher, with 10 percent positivity among new cases, according to the latest Florida Health Department report.
Reporter Eric Mock contributed to this report.
In Orange County, where the airport is located, 139 new cases among residents were reported Tuesday, a dip from an upswing in cases over the last few days.
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