Angry health experts and worker advocates fired back Friday after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said that “overwhelmingly Hispanic” day laborers and agricultural workers are a key driver of a record spike in the state’s COVID-19 cases.
DeSantis, who was one of the last governors in the nation to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and one of the first to reopen the economy, told reporters Tuesday that the surge was mostly among nursing homes, construction workers and other day laborers and farmworkers. Last week he said that “the No. 1 outbreak we’ve seen is in agricultural communities.”
“Some of these guys go to work in a school bus, and they’re are all just packed there like sardines, going across Palm Beach County or some of these other places, and there’s just all these opportunities to have transmission,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
Check out his comments concerning the “overwhelmingly Hispanic” workers in the video below at the 10:00 and 23:30 marks.
He was fact-checked by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, who said the majority of farmworkers left the state weeks ago after harvests, and that cases are spiking in nonagricultural areas, The Tampa Bay Times reported.
Farmworker advocates ripped the governor for a racist blame-the-victims strategy in a state where employers are required to provide few protections for farmworkers and Florida has offered little outreach to a vulnerable population with poor access to health care and hygienic living conditions.
Antonio Tovar, executive director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, blasted the comments as “shameful,” and told The News Service in Florida that a coalition of 50 groups had begged the governor for help for the community back in April.
“From day one we asked for help for farmworkers, none came,” Lourdes Villanueva, the director of farmworker advocacy for Redlands Christian Migrant Association, told The Tampa Bay Times. “It’s always about blaming the less fortunate and the ones that cannot defend themselves.”
The Florida Health Department reported 3,207 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, marking the largest daily increase since early March. As of Thursday, Florida has recorded over 85,000 cases and at least 3,061 deaths. The recent spike is triggering concerns that Florida could become the new American epicenter for the virus.
The state health department did not provide data, case ZIP codes or maps to the Miami Herald to supply evidence backing the governor’s claim that COVID-19 is highest in Florida’s agricultural communities, the Herald reported.
Franco Ripple, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, accused the governor of “cherry-picking data” to scapegoat farmworkers. Much of the rise in new cases since June 10 has occurred in counties where there is little agriculture, Ripple noted, according to the Herald. “Naming rural and farm communities as a main driver” of the disease is “not accurate,” he said.
DeSantis last week seemed to downplay the growing number of cases in the state by noting that they were appearing largely in specific communities, such as among farmworkers — and in nursing homes. He jokingly referred to Florida in April as “God’s waiting room” because of the large number of elderly residents in the state, who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.