ORLANDO, Fla. — As the number of COVID-19 cases spike in Florida, some are asking why Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be absent from the forefront of the state’s response.
Florida Department of Health reports Florida is nearing its 1-millionth COVID-19 case.
DeSantis held his last press conference on November 4 to talk about the election, before abruptly ending the meeting after about 11 minutes.
“I’ll be back to take questions probably sometime before the weekend,” DeSantis told reporters that Wednesday afternoon.
The governor’s schedule since then has been fairly light, with a handful of meetings, an appearance in the Legislature last week, and an appearance at a Special Olympics event in Central Florida.
“Our governor is nowhere to be found,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-District 49, of Orlando.
“He’s avoiding interaction with the public, he’s not holding press conferences, he’s not taking questions from the media, and there’s a reason," Smith added. "He doesn’t want to be held accountable."
The governor’s communications team has also ignored reporter questions for a week.
Spectrum News is among those who have asked the governor’s office about his COVID-19 response, criticism of his mandate restrictions, and whether the governor himself has ever tested positive for coronavirus.
Since the election, the governor’s official Twitter feed has also posted about COVID-19 and vaccine production five times.
After weeks of pressing his office repeatedly, only on Wednesday did the office acknowledge receiving the questions.
It’s worth noting the governor’s Communications team is led by director Fred Piccolo, who, according to the state’s employee salary database, receives a taxpayer salary of $154,500. That is more than $20,000 more than DeSantis himself, whose salary is set by the Florida Legislature.
As communications director, and in charge of answering media questions, Piccolo also earns more than most of the executive branch directors and secretaries in charge of various state agencies.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE SALARIES
Source: Florida State Employee Salary Database
Shane Strum, Chief of Staff: $180,250
Fred Piccolo, Communications Director: $180,250
Ron DeSantis, Governor: $134,181
Jeanette Nunez, Lieutenant Governor: $128,596
Mark Inch, Secretary of Corrections: $146,822
Chad Popell, Secretary of Department of Children and Families: $146,822
Kevin Thibault, Secretary of Department of Transportation: $146,822
Richard Prudom, Secretary of Elder Affairs: $146,260
Halsey Beshears, Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulations: $146,260
Jonathan Satter, Secretary of Department of Management Services: $146,260
Laurel Lee, Florida Secretary of State: $146,259
Jared Moskowitz, Director of Emergency Management: $145,230
Dane Eagle, Director of Department of Economic Opportunity: $144,200
“We need a leader through this crisis, and what we have is a governor hiding, embarrassed by his failure to contain COVID-19,” Smith said.
While critics say DeSantis isn’t doing enough, supporters say he is.
“I know he hasn’t done press conferences for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean he’s not visible,” State Rep. Randy Fine, R-District 53, of Palm Bay said.
“I think he’s been a good example,” he added.
Fine points out that DeSantis is leading the state effectively through the crisis, pointing out the governor wearing a mask at some public events, such as the Legislative Organizational Session last week.
“What I’d like him to do is continue to be an example to ask people to do the right thing, which is wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and avoid unnecessary gatherings because it’s the right thing to do, not because he’s going to mandate it,” Fine said.
Fine knows well the impact of COVID-19. He was hospitalized for several days earlier this year after he and his family tested positive.
“I always wore a mask, I social-distanced, I wasn’t doing a lot of events, so it just confirmed my thinking that you can do all of the right things, and all they do is reduce your chances,” he said.
It should be noted that DeSantis is not always consistent with his practice. While attending three of President Donald Trump’s Central Florida rallies before the election, the governor was never observed wearing a mask or social distancing.
Fine said personal responsibility will fuel the state’s ability to emerge from the pandemic safe and healthy. He, too, supports DeSantis’s recent executive order, which blocks municipalities from imposing fines or penalties for disobeying local ordinances, such as mask requirements.
“Mandates don’t work," Fine said. "If they did, the states with the greatest lockdowns wouldn’t be experiencing surges.”