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FL Ag Commissioner Fried uses her authority to tackle the COVID crisis, including getting info to the public

After state health officials stopped providing daily COVID-19 reports, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried decided to fill the “COVID information-sharing void” through regular updates.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says she’ll provide regular updates to fill the “COVID information-sharing void.” Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Fried, an elected Cabinet official and a 2022 gubernatorial candidate, hopes to provide daily, “if not, almost daily,” COVID-19 updates to inform the public, she announced at a Wednesday press conference.

She plans to use data and information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide a picture to the public, particularly as cases have surged and a more transmissible Delta variant has been sweeping the country.

“Information and communication is essential,” Fried said.

Fried’s comments come as Gov. Ron DeSantis moves against mask mandates, further lockdowns, so-called vaccine passports that would indicate vaccination status and other limitations that suppress freedoms.

As the chief executive of Florida, DeSantis has been at the helm of overseeing the COVID crisis in Florida. But Wednesday, Fried made it clear that she is stepping in, using her own authority to help tackle the pandemic crisis.

She has criticized the lack of daily updates on COVID from the Florida Department of Health, which now provides only weekly reports related to COVID cases, vaccinations and other measures.

Fried’s press conference comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted COVID recommendations, including that fully-vaccinated residents in areas of high virus transmission should wear masks, and everyone in K-12 schools should wear the face masks regardless of vaccination status.

According to the CDC, all counties in Florida are labeled “high levels of community transmission.” Florida posted 12,775 new cases on Tuesday, July 26, the CDC reports — the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. By Wednesday, the figure for Florida was 16,038, according to CDC data.

Fried urged Floridians to get vaccinated, wear masks, regularly wash hands and use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing.

At the news conference, a reporter asked Fried if lockdowns should be used to curb Florida’s surging COVID numbers.

“Lockdowns, we know, should not be considered at this point,” she said, “because we need people to be smart, and we need people to take personal responsibility.”

Fried is campaigning to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the 2022 election. She and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican Florida governor and now a top Democratic contender for the 2022 gubernatorial race, have criticized DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 surge in Florida.

Wednesday, Fried noted that, “he (DeSantis) could have gotten his vaccine in public to show support … and he chose not too.”

She added: “People may have reasons for not getting the vaccines, whether it’s other health concerns or … other reasons, but we need to be having rational conversations with people, and the governor needs to be consistent on the messaging encouraging people to get the vaccines.”

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.