TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for college football to be played as scheduled this fall, saying Tuesday that canceling the season as some conferences are doing because of the coronavirus will put the players at more risk outside the protective bubble provided by their teams.
DeSantis made his remarks shortly after the state announced 277 more deaths, a one-day record that is likely misleading. Because of reporting lags, the state health department figures do not necessarily represent deaths in a 24-hour period, but can also include those from several previous days. Tuesday numbers often include deaths not reported over the weekend.
DeSantis' football push happened hours before the Big 10 became the first major conference to postpone its season to the spring, something the smaller Mid-American and the Mountain West conferences already had done. The Pac-12 may also postpone its season, but the South's two primary conferences, the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast, are planning to play.
"We are here to say from the State of Florida, we want you guys to play," DeSantis said to two Florida State University players at his news conference at the school's practice facility. The school belongs to the Atlantic Coast Conference. "This is the safest place to be. To take away that season would be short-circuiting the dreams of so many of our student athletes, who have worked for, in many cases, their whole lives."
He said he hopes that the annual rivalry game between Florida State and Florida, canceled because of scheduling changes caused by the virus, can be rescheduled. Florida belongs to the Southeastern Conference.
Florida's highest previous single-day addition to the state's death count was 257 on July 31. Florida's total fatalities due to the virus now stand at 8,685. The new deaths bring the state's seven-day average in daily reported deaths to 166 — down from a high of 185 a week ago. New York, a comparable state in terms of population, had a peak seven-day average death toll of 764 in April.
Dr. Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist, said Tuesday's total is not a reflection of what happened the previous day.
"You have deaths that may be going back more than a month, that are just getting reported now," said
But, she said, the fatality number does reflect the deadliness of the disease during its surge in Florida in late June and July.
There has been a slight downward trend in positive cases, and Prins said within two or three weeks, the state should see a corresponding decline in deaths.
Health authorities added about 5,800 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The daily number had surpassed 15,000 in mid-July. The total number of confirmed cases stands now at more than 540,000 in the state of 21.5 million.
The number of patients treated in Florida hospitals for COVID-19 has also dropped, continuing a more than two-week decline. It stood at 6,729 in the late morning Tuesday— down nearly 30% from highs above 9,500 last month.
At Baptist Health in Jacksonville, the numbers mirror what the rest of the state is seeing, said Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, the hospital's executive vice president. She said the hospital's numbers are decreasing, but "not as dramatically as they increased, unfortunately."
But she also noted the average length of stay in the hospital is slowly starting to increase again. In the beginning of the second wave, patients stayed about 3.5 days on average compared to seven or eight days in March, but that number is inching upward, she said.
DeSantis, making his football push, said weekly testing and the discipline imposed on players to socially isolate them from outsiders make it less likely for them to catch the virus than if they were on their own. The school has its own testing lab and can get players' results in a day, university President John Thrasher said.
"Some of the circumstances these players have faced have been challenging," new Seminole coach Mike Norvell said. "Their response has been incredible."
For junior defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, 2020 will be key for his NFL dreams. A top recruit out of high school, he suffered a serious leg injury that forced him out of last season, so he needs to prove he can still play at an elite level.
"It is so weird that we are here even having this conversation about potentially not playing," Kaindoh said. "I have put in so much work day in and day out, even when school opened back up, and to get to the point where I am right now and potentially have the season taken away, it would be heartbreaking."
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press reporters Adriana Gomez Licon, in Miami; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale and Tamara Lush, in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this report.
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