Top Florida Democrat claims Ron DeSantis contracted Covid and hid it from voters

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried made the claim this week

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Tuesday 09 March 2021 17:03
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A top Florida Democrat has accused Governor Ron DeSantis of contracting Covid-19 and hiding it from voters, as the Republican faced questions of using vaccines to boost campaign donations.

Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, a Democrat, made the accusation when speaking on the latest episode of The Daily Beast's The New Abnormal podcast.

"You know, he went MIA for three weeks in November claiming that he was working on some statewide plan. My take is that he probably had Covid and didn't want to tell people. So when the vaccines first came to our state, there was no communication, no plan," Ms Fried told co-host Molly Jong-Fast.

The Democrat was not questioned or asked to back up her claims that Mr DeSantis contracted Covid-19 in the month of December.

The Independent has contacted Mr DeSantis' office for a comment.

But this accusation comes as the governor's office faces questions about how he's decided to distribute Covid-19 vaccines throughout the state and if politics has influenced any of his distribution decisions.

"When they started having these vaccines rollout, it was first come first serve. It was an absolute disaster," Ms Fried said about vaccine administration in Florida.

Mr DeSantis has faced several reports of his administration prioritising wealthy, white communities over others when deciding how to distribute Covid-19 vaccine doses.

Last week the Miami Herald released a report that revealed nearly all wealthy, elderly residents living in Ocean Reef Club, a gated community, in north Key Largo of the Florida Keys have received a Covid-19 vaccine. All of the more than 1,200 residents who were over the age of 65 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the newspaper.

It was also reported that the community is made up of the only residents in Key Largo who have donated to Mr DeSantis and his political committee. At least 17 residents in Ocean Reef Club donated $5,000 or more to Mr DeSantis' campaign, according to the newspaper, with one person writing a $250,000 check to the governor.

However, Mr DeSantis' office has insisted that the governor played no role in selecting vaccine doses to go to Ocean Reef Club or other wealthy communities.

"This was not a state supported senior community POD [point of distribution], nor was it requested by the governor,'' a spokesperson told the Miami Herald in an email.

"Florida was the first state to prioritise seniors,'' she added. "The state has utilised a variety of approaches including walk-up, drive-thru, and faith-based initiatives to ensure vaccine access to all eligible Floridians, particularly in underserved communities. These efforts have resulted in Florida vaccinating over 50 per cent of our state's senior population – the highest of any state in the nation."

But several incidents have been raised as to whether the state was equitably distributing vaccines to all Floridians instead of prioritising those from wealthy, white communities.

Ms Fried, who has been named as a top Democrat to run against Mr DeSantis in the 2022 gubernatorial race, has called for an FBI investigation into Florida's vaccine distribution process amid recent reports.

"Now we have seen at least three or four separate stories where these vaccines were located in wealthy, donor communities. There's too many coincidences," she said on The Daily Beast's podcast.

"The governor is using the vaccines as a political tool and a political weapon in a lot of cases," she added. "The governor had his best fundraising last month ... I'm sorry, when there's smoke there's typically fire."

Last month, at least three vaccination sites were developed with the help of Pat Neal, a prominent GOP donor who contributed $125,000 to Mr DeSantis' political committee in 2018 and 2019, in other wealthy communities. Mr DeSantis has denied any wrongdoing was going on in selecting where to place these vaccination sites, but his administration has yet to provide the public with written criteria for how these locations are selected to administer the Covid-19 vaccines.

Only 5.4 per cent of Black people living in Florida have received at least one of the more than 5.9 million vaccine doses that have been administered so far, according to a Covid-19 Dashboard created by epidemiologist Jason Salemi. This is despite Black people making up 17 per cent of the state's population.

Only 10.3 per cent of Hispanics living in Florida have received at least one of the more than 5.9 million vaccine doses that have been administered. This is despite them making up 23.2 per cent of the state's population.

"There's some people who are more upset at me for vaccinating seniors than they are at other governors whose policies have killed seniors, and that is a joke," Mr DeSantis said when defending his administration following a recent report of vaccination sites being prioritised towards wealthy, white communities.

Calls have increased from state Democrats for the governor's administration to be investigated by the federal government for how vaccines have been distributed.

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