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Florida's coronavirus outbreak complicates Republican convention, Trump's reelection bid

David Smiley and Francesca Chambers, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- When Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, returns to Florida Thursday, he'll find a much different situation than when he last visited in late May.

Florida at the time was reopening restaurants and gyms. Politicians were paving the way for the Republican National Convention to relocate from Charlotte, North Carolina. And the state -- a must-win this November for President Donald Trump -- was hailed by Fox News anchors as a conservative success story.

"We succeeded," a defiant Gov. Ron DeSantis said on May 20, chiding his critics in Orlando next to a nodding Pence.

But as Pence prepares to return to Florida to reassess the situation -- his campaign stop in Sarasota was called off but he's still planning a visit to meet with DeSantis, his office said Monday -- the state's coronavirus outbreak is escalating to new levels, complicating Trump's reelection campaign and clouding the outlook for the convention.

Unlike in early June, when coronavirus cases were steady and the Republican National Committee announced that Trump would accept the party's presidential nomination before a presumably packed arena in Jacksonville, Florida is now setting new records for positive coronavirus cases almost daily.

The Florida Department of Health reported 5,266 new cases Monday -- more than triple the number of cases announced on June 11, the day RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced that the organization would fete Trump in Jacksonville. The state set a new high Saturday of 9,585 cases.

 

RNC spokesman Rick Gorka told McClatchy on Monday that it is "business as usual" when it comes to the Trump campaign's ground game in Florida, and the national committee continues to coordinate with local leaders in Jacksonville on its approach to the convention.

"The RNC is committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time. The event is still two months away, and we are planning to offer health precautions including but not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, and available COVID-19 testing."

But parts of Florida are doing what DeSantis said he wouldn't do: reversing course on reopening. The state shut down bars last week. In South Florida -- now host to a planned presidential debate in October -- beaches will be closed for the July Fourth holiday weekend. Businesses and individuals have been threatened in some areas with closure, fines and arrest if they fail to follow local restrictions.

And on Monday, the city of Jacksonville announced a new order to wear masks indoors at public events where social distancing couldn't be achieved.

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