The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Marked by COVID organization joined Thursday to hold a virtual vigil mourning lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The groups are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to rethink phase 3 reopenings as COVID positivity rates hold near 5 percent.
More than 15,000 Floridians have died from COVID-19 according to the state Health Department dashboard. And for some health advocates that’s more than 15,000 too many.
Sydney Reiss of the PIRG hosted Thursday’s online vigil for what the organization is calling a National Week of Mourning for the Floridians, and more than 210,000 Americans across the country, who have died from COVID-19.
“The ultimate goal is that not another person dies from COVID-19,” Reiss said.
Florida continues with its Phase 3 reopening plan. The vigils speakers, all who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, called on DeSantis to step up and put people over profit.
Nancy Batista lost her uncle, a school janitor who contracted the virus from a coworker.
“It could’ve been avoided if only we had elected officials that didn’t care so much about opening the economy, but cared about those who had little to no chance of surviving,” she said.
Tampa resident Diana Ruso, has already lost two family members to the pandemic. Ruso said her grandmother was in a nursing home when she got sick and died alone. For the last 30 years, Ruso and her grandmother spoke daily. Those conversations ended as her grandmother’s condition worsened. Now, Ruso said, she is forever haunted wondering how her grandmother spent her final moments.
“There are questions that cross my mind every day,” she said through tears. “Did she know she was dying? Was she in pain? And if she felt abandoned by her family. My spirit is broken knowing that I couldn’t be there to comfort her.”
The last thing Marco Reyes heard his father say was that his electric bill was due. From his hospital bed, he asked his son to remember it needed to be paid. Reyes said he’s angry with the Governor. His father, he said, believed in DeSantis as Florida increased its reopenings. But DeSantis failed his father.
“Your failed leadership has caused many deaths in the state of Florida,” he said. “There’s still time to save a lot of people, but you need to man up and you need to be the leader that you claimed to be, that you said you would be when you ran for governor. And it’s time.”
The World Health Organization has said governments can consider reopenings if test positivity rates stay at or below 5 percent for two weeks. Health Department data shows Florida’s positivity rate has hovered near 5 percent recently, climbing to nearly 6 percent on Sept. 21. That’s less than a week before DeSantis announced the State would move into phase 3. On Monday, the positivity rate was again over 5 percent.
Reiss, PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Associate, said it’s time to roll back reopening and focus on safety instead of dollar signs.
“When it comes to reopening, healthcare professionals have been clear for months what needs to happen. It includes a statewide mask mandate, it includes comprehensive testing and it includes contact tracing,” Reiss said. “It’s something that Florida needs to take seriously if they hope to reopen safely.”
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