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DeSantis defended over TV report accusations on vaccine distributions to Publix markets

By CJ HADDAD - | Apr 6, 2021

Accusations against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding COVID-19 vaccine distributions to Publix were dismissed by state Democrats this week, as a segment on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night suggested the popular supermarket chain’s donations were the reason they were given doses.  The program alleged the DeSantis provided COVID-19 vaccines to Publix after a $100,000 donation to his PAC (political action committee).  

On Sunday night, Florida Division of Emergency Manage-ment Director and Democrat Jared Moskowitz — head of the agency leading the state’s vaccination distribution — responded to the show via Twitter, saying in a tweet directed at 60 Minutes, “I said this before and I’ll say it again. (Publix) was recommended by (Florida Division of Emergency Management) and (Florida Department of Health) as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.” 

In response to a Miami Herald article in March questioning Publix’s vaccine distribution plan (while mentioning their hefty campaign dollars to DeSantis), Moskowitz denied any coercion between the grocer and the governor.  

“This idea why (Publix) was picked has been utter nonsense,” he wrote. “We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal government delayed the federal pharmacy program and we yet again stepped up to serve more seniors.” 

Democratic mayor of Palm Beach County Dave Kerner, the county in which Publix is based, released a statement on Monday condemning the report by journalist Sharyn Alfonsi and said was turned down when he volunteered his knowledge.  

“I watched the 60 Minutes segment on Palm Beach County last night … the reporting was not just based on bad information – it was intentionally false,” Kerner wrote. “I know this because I offered to provide my insight into Palm Beach County’s vaccination efforts and 60 minutes declined. They know that the Governor came to Palm Beach County and met with me and the County Administrator and we asked to expand the state’s partnership with Public to Palm Beach County.” 

On Monday, DeSantis appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Show to discuss the segment. The two discussed the apparent editing of the interview shown between DeSantis and Alfonsi, as well as the 3.5 million seniors Florida has vaccinated thus far.  

“They tried to act like there was a conspiracy with Publix, ignoring the fact that other pharmacies were involved before Publix doing all of our long-term care facilities,” DeSantis said.  

“They don’t believe in facts. It was a political narrative. It was done with malicious intent, and a reckless disregard for the truth. They would not talk to the people who were most relevant to this, because they know those key Democrats – Jared Moskowitz, Mayor Dave Kerner – would blow up their narrative, so they just put their head in the sand and pretended like those facts didn’t exist.” 

On Monday, Publix issued a statement that said, “The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive.” 

In regards to editing DeSantis’ answer to Alfonsi’s question asking the governor if there was a connection between Publix donation dollars and vaccines, a representative from the show issued a statement that said, “As we always do for clarity, 60 MINUTES used the portion of the Governor’s over 2-minute response that directly addressed the question from the correspondent.” 

On Tuesday, CBS expanded upon that statement and said, “When Florida state data revealed people of color were vaccinated at a much lower rate than their wealthier neighbors, 60 MINUTES reported the facts surrounding the vaccine’s rollout, which is controlled by the governor. We requested and conducted interviews with dozens of sources and authorities involved. We requested an interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis, he declined; We spoke to State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz twice, but he declined to be interviewed on camera for our story until well after our deadline. The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue. Counter to his statement yesterday, we also spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner. For over 50 years, the facts reported by 60 MINUTES have often stirred debate and prompted strong reactions. Our story Sunday night speaks for itself.” 

By the Numbers

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are 2,090,862 total cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Florida, an increase of 5,556 since FDOH’s last update Monday.

Test results reported to the Department of Health on Monday, April 5 resulted in a 6.89% positivity rate among 94,940 tests.

The state saw its highest daily percentage of positive patients on Dec. 29 when 22.75% percent of tests reported were positive among 62,303 tests.

The average positivity rate in new cases over the last week is 6.65%.

Of those testing positive, 86,065 Florida residents have been hospitalized at some point during their illness according to the state.

The death toll increased by 70 from Monday’s report, bringing the total number of deaths, both resident and non-resident, to 34,434.

According to the state, hospitalizations in Lee County make up 3% of all cases and statewide in Florida, make up 4% of all positive cases. Deaths statewide and in Lee County stand at 2% of positive cases.

On Dec. 27, 974 people were given the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine throughout the state according to FDOH.

The total number of persons vaccinated as of Tuesday throughout Florida was 6,437,330 with 246,017 being in Lee County. According to the state, 3,769,667 individuals have their vaccine series completed, 137,906 of those being in Lee County.

In Lee County, 63,774 individuals (+202) have tested positive as of Tuesday’s update.

Positive COVID-19 cases in the county have ranged from infants to a 103-year-old. Lee County saw its first two cases on March 7, when a man and a woman, each 77, tested positive. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic.

There have been 930 deaths in Lee County, an increase of seven since Monday’s report.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Lee Health had 98 COVID-19 patients isolated in system inpatient hospitals, including 18 new admissions and 17 discharges since Monday. Over the weekend, Lee Health saw 26 new COVID-19 admissions and 24 discharges.

On Monday, Lee Health had a 13.7% positivity rate on COVID-19 tests processed through Lee Health Labs. This represents Lee Health results only, not Lee County as a whole. Hospital positivity rates tend to be higher as the tests are performed on patients seeking treatment for a health issue, not the general public that includes asymptomatic individuals.

A total of 5,587 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from Lee Health facilities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Census as of Tuesday afternoon was at 94% of staffed operational bed capacity, with 7% of those being COVID-19 patients. Staffed operational capacity reflects the number of beds for which the hospital has adequate staffing, not the total number of beds within Lee Health hospitals. Overall bed capacity fluctuates hour to hour as the system discharges patients throughout the day who are ready to go home.

As of Tuesday, 64% of ventilators and 6% of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

As of Tuesday, there were 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 18 in the intensive care unit.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

Officials strongly urge all members of the public who are at risk to remain at home so as to limit exposure. All others are urged to observe social distancing and to wear a mask for all public interactions.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit the live DOH Dashboard.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj