Ron DeSantis Kept Florida Beaches Open As Medical Examiner Begged For Them To Close, Report Claims

Governor Ron DeSantis gives a briefing regarding Hurricane Dorian to the media at National Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
Eva Marie Uzcategui / Getty Images

A Sunday report from The Washington Post claims that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis kept beaches in St. Johns County open even as the region’s medical examiner begged him to close them amid fears of a deadly coronavirus outbreak. The report cites emails obtained by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation that were allegedly reviewed by the publication.

“The county later closed the beaches on March 29 and then partially reopened them two weeks later,” the report reads.

“As of Saturday, there have been four deaths from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, and more than 200 confirmed cases in the county, a sliver of the 35,463 cases and 1,364 deaths in Florida, which are concentrated in more populated areas such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale.”

In one email, Deanna A. Oleske, the associate medical examiner for the county, pleaded for the beaches to be closed. In another, she noted the alleged staffing problems that could hinder the county’s coronavirus response.

“We are facing NUMEROUS issues that are inhibiting us to appropriately staff this office in an expeditious manner BEFORE facing a pandemic of unknown proportions.”

Oleske allegedly warned of her office’s “dire situation” numerous times in the emails, pointing to a lack of staff, capacity, and equipment that would not be sufficient to battle a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Elsewhere in the emails, county parks director Doug Bataille claimed that a weekend in mid-March saw crowds that were almost double the size of last year’s spring break and Memorial Day.

“The volume does not seem to be declining,” he wrote.

According to The Guardian, DeSantis — a close ally of President Donald Trump — has been focusing his pandemic efforts on preserving the economy. The publication claims DeSantis has generally passed on the advice of public health officials and instead heeded advice from the Florida chamber of commerce, the state’s restaurant and lodging association, and Associated Industries of Florida.

Evan Jenne, co-leader elect of Florida’s House Democrats, claims that DeSantis and his administration will be the focus of a future legislative committee evaluation that will determine the effectiveness of the state’s coronavirus response.

As reported by Mediaite, DeSantis previously called Florida “God’s waiting room,” referring to the state’s large number of elderly residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic. The comments were made during a press conference last week that addressed the state’s response to coronavirus, which he suggested is improving as the days go by.

As of Sunday evening, Florida has 35,463 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,364 deaths.