Trump Visits Virus Hotspot in Florida as Cases Soar

The president received a briefing on Caribbean counternarcotics operations, making only brief mention of the pandemic, and will later attend a private campaign fundraiser in the crucial battleground state.

President Donald Trump claps after delivering a speech about counternarcotics operations at U.S. Southern Command in Doral, Fla., on Friday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

DORAL, Fla. (CN) — President Donald Trump on Friday visited South Florida, one of the nation’s epicenters of coronavirus infections, as the region struggles to contain skyrocketing cases and keep hospital beds open.

Trump flew to Miami for a briefing on counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean and a meeting with Venezuelan dissidents. He did not directly address the Covid-19 surge in the Sunshine State.  

The Florida Department of Health reported 11,433 new cases on Friday, nearly surpassing last Saturday’s record and bringing the total number of cases to 244,151.

Over 4,000 Floridians have died from the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Deaths have also risen steadily each day, with 93 succumbing to the coronavirus since Thursday morning, state records show.

Florida also reported an all-time high of hospitalizations over the virus – 437 – as hospital capacity rapidly diminishes in the state’s metro areas.

According to state records, less than 15% of ICU beds are available statewide and hospital bed capacity stands at 20%. Several hospitals around the state are suspending elective surgeries.

The president only made brief mentions of the pandemic during his prepared remarks on expanded counternarcotics operations.

“As you know, in the United States, at least before the Covid came to us – the flu, the virus, the China virus, whatever you would like to call it, it’s got many different names – but before it hit we were doing really well,” Trump said while sitting at a table in front of packaged stacks of unidentified drugs. “We’re still doing really well, but now we’re getting back on track.”

“Unfortunately, the shutdowns caused by the China virus have led to a recent rise in overdose deaths … this is one of the reasons we are reopening our country,” he added.  

Trump did not take questions after the briefing, held in Doral, located outside of Miami and home to the U.S. Southern Command and one of the president’s golf resorts.

A health care worker is seen at a Covid-19 testing site in Homestead, Fla., on Monday, (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami-Dade County continues to lead the state in new coronavirus infections. On Monday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced an executive order closing all restaurants, except for takeout and delivery, along with party venues and short-term rentals. That followed a face mask mandate for indoor establishments and an overnight curfew.

Trump plans to attend a private campaign fundraiser Friday night in Broward County, another coronavirus hotspot.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, called Trump’s visit to Florida a “photo-op.”

“With over 232,000 cases in the state and over 4,000 deaths in Florida, it is clear that Trump’s response — ignore, blame others, and distract — has come at the expense of Florida families,” Biden said in a statement.

Florida is a must-win swing state for Trump, who changed his residency from New York to the Sunshine State late last year. Trump narrowly won Florida in 2016 by less than 1% of the vote.

Recent polling shows Biden with a narrow lead in the state.

Although South Florida leans Democratic, the conservative Cuban and Venezuelan exile communities play an outsized role for Republicans running in the state. Trump and administration officials present made frequent references to the “corrupt regime” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during the counternarcotics briefing.

An hour before Trump’s briefing, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke to reporters in Orlando to address the rise in Covid-19 cases.

DeSantis, a Republican and avid supporter of Trump, continued his refrain that the explosion of infections is due to expanded testing and mostly asymptomatic young people who continue to socialize in air-conditioned public places.

He also dismissed reports of diminished hospital bed and ICU capacity. 

“I think it’s an important message to folks throughout the state of Florida to know: hospitals have capacity,” DeSantis told reporters. “I mean, there will be articles saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they are at 90%.’ Well that’s how hospitals normally run.”

“Oh, they’ll say, ‘We have some counties that have no ICU beds,’” he added. “Yeah, well we have a lot of rural counties that don’t have any ICU beds at all. That’s just not how they operate. They send people to bigger systems.”

DeSantis said the state has contingency plans for any surge by contracting with companies to provide medical staff to hospitals.

He also did not back down from his decision to reopen schools in the fall.

“It should not be a political issue,” the governor said. “It should be based on the facts.”

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