What used to be near almost daily press appearances from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis about how the state is responding to the pandemic, has abruptly turned into short and sporadic pre-recorded videos posted to social media.
In May, Teri McGuire’s 87-year-old mother died from COVID-19. With virus case numbers once again reaching record highs in Florida, Teri is desperate for information.
“With these pre-recorded videos he’s not allowing anybody to ask questions. How do we really know what’s going on,” she told us recently.
I’ve been meeting with federal officials involved in Operation Warp Speed & have been able to get key questions answered for Florida. We have been working to procure therapeutic treatments for our hospitals & are ready to begin distributing vaccines pending FDA approval. pic.twitter.com/fGFS36CgRU— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) November 24, 2020
Over the past few weeks, DeSantis has posted two pre-recorded videos. One was posted on Veterans Day, the other was posted just last week. It was less than 6 minutes long and, as of Tuesday morning, had 67-thousand views. In the video, DeSantis explains when and how the state plans to distribute a COVID vaccine once it’s approved and becomes available.
But in a state with more than twenty million people and where an estimated 29% don’t speak English at home, the Governor’s message is only available in one language, English. In addition, while some key words are highlighted in text, Ann Siegel of Disability Rights Florida, said it’s insufficient for the state’s more than 800,000 deaf and hard of hearing.
“Without American Sign Language, they are watching a screen with nothing. It’s literally a picture with our Governor’s mouth moving,” Siegel said. She’s especially concerned since the information the Governor provided is critical to the health and safety of Florida residents.
“This could be a life or death situation for some people,” she said.
It’s a problem, Disability Rights Florida has been trying to address with the Governor for months since an interpreter was not always there for his in-person press briefings.
“We’ve sent several emails, letters, phone calls, no response. There are so many individuals who rely on sign language, I’m not sure why he’s not providing it.” Siegel said.
In July, the group filed a lawsuit against Governor DeSantis accusing him of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not consistently providing an American Sign Language Interpreter during press conferences discussing critical information to address the health crisis.
The Governor maintains he is abiding by federal law with the use of closed captioning.
“Wow, these are big concerns,” said Florida Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents Orlando. Eskamani has been critical of the Governor over how he’s responded to the pandemic.
“I do think he’s being very intentional and avoiding the press for two main reasons,” she said. “We know that COVID 19 is on the rise. He doesn’t want to address it, he wants to ignore it and two, President Trump,” said Eskamani.
Since the election, DeSantis, a staunch Trump supporter, has held just one in-person press conference where praised Florida’s smooth election and criticized the media. He’s also appeared on FOX News pushing Republican lawmakers to back Trump’s allegations of election fraud. He also urged lawmakers in Michigan and Pennsylvania to consider selecting electors who would overturn the popular votes in those states and cast votes for President Trump. DeSantis also made a brief appearance on the Weather Channel for Tropical Storm Eta.
As for his M-I-A status as the COVID virus continues to spike in Florida, his spokesperson Fred Piccolo emailed us the following, “The Governor has [been] in the office, on the phone, he traveled to Washington to discuss vaccine logistics and time tables, he’s responded to questions in writing, attended both organization sessions of the legislature, prepared information for the video address the other night, attended a Special Olympics event in Clermont, closely monitored the COVID situation in long term and elder care facilities, and - as he’s been traveling nonstop for months - he is spending some time enjoying being a dad to a 7-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. He wishes every Floridian a safe and blessed thanksgiving and asks all to give thanks for frontline healthcare workers, teachers, first responders, and all the unsung heroes who keep Florida in business and our kids in school.”