Florida Governor Blames Young People as Coronavirus Cases Rise Fivefold in 2 Weeks

Florida's spike in new coronavirus cases can be largely attributed to socializing by young people, Governor Ron DeSantis said Sunday.

Cases remained stable in May following Florida's reopening, but the state started seeing an uptick in June. Over the past month, the state reported eight record-high daily increases in new cases, and this past Friday the Department of Business and Professional Regulation shut down on-site alcohol consumption at bars statewide.

On Sunday, Florida reported 8,577 new cases, a slight dip from the previous day's 9,564, according to the state Department of Health. However, that daily increase is about five times higher than it was two weeks ago. DeSantis said during a briefing that some of the rise in new cases can be attributed to an increase in testing, since when you increase testing you identify more infections.

The troubling trend isn't just that there's an increase in the number of cases but that a larger portion of the population tested positive in June than in May. The positivity rate increased to 12 percent on Sunday from about 4 or 5 percent in May.

Officials are "really looking at" the spike in the positivity rate, which is being driven by people between the ages of 18 and 44 testing positive, DeSantis said. For those between 25 and 34, DeSantis said, the positivity rate is close to 20 percent, one of the only consistent data patterns across the whole state.

"If you look at that 25-to-34 age group, that is by far the leading age group for positive tests in the state of Florida, and that's something that's pretty new," DeSantis said on Sunday.

The governor said the rise in positive tests among young people was twofold. In March, officials weren't looking for cases in that age group since they're considered low-risk.

florida coronavirus cases young people desantis
People stand in line to enter a restaurant on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach on Saturday. On Sunday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said young people are driving the state's coronavirus outbreak, although they account for vastly fewer hospitalizations and deaths than older, at-risk populations. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty

People under the age of 44 account for 55 percent of Florida's cases but only 17 percent of hospitalizations and 3 percent of deaths, according to the Department of Health. People over 65, a high-risk age demographic, are only 16 percent of Florida's cases but 51 percent of hospitalizations and 85 percent of deaths.

Newsweek reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Florida's testing expansion took the state from seven state-supported testing sites in March to more than 41 sites in June, according to DeSantis. But an increased ability to test people isn't the sole explanation, and he said personal behavior is also driving the spike in the positivity rate.

"This is basically socializing," the governor said. "You have graduation parties, you're going out, you're doing different things, and in certain environments that's going to be conducive to spreading the virus."

Restaurants and stores began reopening May 4 at a limited capacity, followed by bars, movie theaters and other entertainment venues on June 5, when the state entered Phase 2. Social gatherings also increased to a 50-person maximum, and beaches are now fully open.

Images and videos of people crowded into bars and social gatherings concerned public health officials, who chided the state for reopening before the outbreak was under control. On June 16, DeSantis pushed back against the possibility of closing Florida back down, saying the state is "going to go forward" while protecting the most vulnerable.

In a statement, DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears said the decision to shut down bars was based on recent increases and noncompliance with previous orders. He said the number of bars and patrons breaking the rules was "more than we could keep up with," which DeSantis said was a "major action" during Friday's briefing.

The governor called for seniors to continue to practice the diligence in social distancing that they've been exhibiting since the outset and for young people to get on board.

"Make sure you're behaving in ways that aren't going to put someone who's more vulnerable at risk," he said.