'We are living in fear': Florida health department workers write to DeSantis after several employees test positive

Employees at the central offices of the Florida Department of Health have written to Gov. Ron DeSantis to express concern that his administration has not done enough to keep them safe from the coronavirus.

“The Department is not taking any extra precautions to keep us and our families safe,” a letter sent on Friday by health department employees states, describing a lack of safety precautions at FDOH’s central offices in the state capital, Tallahassee. Yahoo News obtained the text of the letter, which was signed by “Concerned State of Florida Employees.”

In recent weeks, Florida has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., reporting about 10,000 new cases on a daily basis. On Friday, the state reported 135 new deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The situation in the Sunshine State has become so grave that President Trump announced on Thursday that he would be canceling the portion of the Republican National Convention that was to take place in Jacksonville, the state’s largest city.

Citing “the flare-up in Florida,” Trump said that “the timing for this event is not right.”

That decision was a blow to DeSantis, who won the governorship largely because of Trump’s surprising endorsement. A close ally of the president, he has been sharply criticized for what critics have called an inattentive handling of the coronavirus crisis. A recent poll found that only 38 percent of Floridians approve of his response to the pandemic.

DeSantis’s office did not reply to requests for comment from Yahoo News.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

The health department has largely been absent from the response ever since the state’s surgeon general was removed by a DeSantis aide from a public briefing for urging citizens to partake in social distancing measures. Several weeks after that incident, the department fired Rebekah Jones, a geographer who had created and was managing its well-regarded coronavirus dashboard.

Jones has alleged that the firing was in retaliation for her refusal to manipulate data.

The letter suggests that a climate of political retribution does indeed prevail at the health department. “We are living in fear and feel our lives and our family’s lives don’t matter,” it says, “but too afraid to speak up for the fear of being fired. We want to be protected like everyone else!”

The letter says that after “several” health department employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and one family member of an employee died as a result, the state failed to take action.

“Management was alerted of the confirmed cases and knew everyone in the office had possibly been exposed,” the letter says. “Nothing was done by management; our office has not been cleaned or sanitized. We all are still sitting here in cubicles one to two feet apart from each other, in violation of social distancing. No one is following the governor’s required mask order in the office or in the building for that matter.”

An employee at the health department confirmed that mask wearing was sporadic at its central offices. As for updates to employees, there had been none, that person said. “This administration has not sent any communications to its employees,” the department employee told Yahoo News.

The letter notes that the state’s Emergency Operations Center requires employees to undergo “aggressive screening.” That center was closed earlier this week after 12 people there tested positive for the coronavirus. A deep cleaning of those offices followed.

The health department did not immediately respond to a Yahoo News request for comment.


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