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Democratic Senators Calling For Apology After Gov. DeSantis Linked Farmworkers To Coronavirus Spread

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, listens as Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, left, speaks during a news conference on COVID-19, Friday, June 19, 2020, at Florida International University in Miami. At rear right is FIU president Mark Rosenberg.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A group of Democratic state senators are among those calling for an apology from Governor Ron DeSantis, after he said farmworkers’ lifestyle is facilitating COVID-19 spread.

During a press conference a week ago, DeSantis made several comments linking a spike in coronavirus cases to farmworkers in Florida. The governor described one recent round of testing on roughly 100 workers at a watermelon farm, which yielded a 90 percent positivity rate.

“Part of the reason is, when you have workers like that, they’re living in really close confines, sometimes multi-generational, but the real close extended contact in those living conditions is really conducive for having this spread,” DeSantis told media last Tuesday.

The state has now surpassed 100,000 coronavirus cases, and DeSantis has also pointed to the state’s prison population and residents of long-term care facilities as the reason for some case surges. But the governor’s characterization of farm workers, and who does those jobs, has rubbed many the wrong way.

“They’re also looking at construction workers and other types of day laborers – they’re finding these are overwhelmingly Hispanic day laborers,” the governor said.

DeSantis also said farmworkers often travel to work in buses, “packed there like sardines.” Reacting to the Governor’s comments, Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez said Monday that the governor singled out “some of the most vulnerable” Floridians:

“Blaming farm workers, other Hispanics who are in the service sector who have been essential workers who have gone to work, answered the call to duty in service of their communities, is absolutely embarrassing, appalling, and frankly, we look forward to his apology,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez joined seven other senators in writing a letter addressed to DeSantis, asking for an apology. But, he says, the governor can take action to help farmworkers – which Rodriguez says would involve the legislature returning to Tallahassee.

“We’re tired of apologies – what we need is for the governor to take action,” Rodriguez said, on a conference call hosted by the Florida Democratic Party. “We need for the governor to call a special session to help protect these vulnerable communities from the spread of the virus, due to their lack of access to quality healthcare, by expanding Medicaid and other programs.”

DeSantis has previously said he doesn’t think a special session will be necessary.

The governor’s communications director, Helen Ferré, responded to the senators’ letter on Twitter Monday, calling their assertions that DeSantis’ is scapegoating Hispanic people “politics at its worst.” She says DeSantis “ensured these farm workers received medical testing and treatment for COVID19, which clearly they needed. If these Democrats are so concerned, why didn't they step up?”

The governor did not hold a press conference to discuss COVID-19 Monday.

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Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.