Florida governor orders schools closed rest of academic year

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that schools would remain closed for rest of the academic year, calling it a fairly easy decision since the prospect of reopening for just a few weeks in May offered little academic benefit.

“You had kind of a division among folks whether this was a good idea or not,” the governor said during a news conference in Tallahassee. “The last thing you want to do is force everyone to have school and have half the kids not show up because their parents didn’t want, their teachers didn’t want to do it.”

DeSantis, a Republican, said he understands the social impacts of kids not being able to see friends. He said he plans to ease some restrictions in the next phase so that “kids will have a little bit more to be able to do,” but he didn’t elaborate on what that would look like or when it might happen.

In his own home, his wife, Casey, has not left the house since the end of February. She gave birth to the couple’s third child at the end of March.

“I see how it is to be inside and not be able to go out every day inside my house,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state is also working on developing a system with private labs for quick turnaround testing, to get “5,000, 10,000 in each lab turned around within 24 hours,” which DeSantis said will provide critical data to drive policy decisions around reopening the state.

The DeSantis administration has come under criticism from Democratic lawmakers for lagging behind many other states in per capita testing, although its total number of tests has been running about second or third behind hardest-hit New York.

The governor said a massive number of tests were returned in the last two days. As of Saturday evening, state health officials said more than 25,400 people in Florida had tested positive for COVID-19, leading to more than 3,700 hospitalizations and at least 748 deaths.

Access to quick turnaround tests opened up after Medicare and Medicaid started reimbursing $100 per test. The governor said that wasn’t an option a week ago because labs weren’t willing to do it for $50.

DeSantis said he’s also considering investing money so state labs can do their own quick turnaround tests, saying it makes sense to spend a million dollars up front on a machine, instead of contracting it out to private labs.

“If we plan on (paying private labs to process) tens of thousands of tests a day ... that’s going to add up pretty quickly, so if we have our own capacity then that would be able to do a lot.”