White House press secretary Jen Psaki made a demonstrably false claim on Thursday when she accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of not advocating for the people in his state to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Psaki was speaking at the daily White House press briefing when a reporter asked her about the Republican governor's recently announced plan to distribute 1 million at-home COVID-19 testing kits. DeSantis, a Republican, has accused the Biden administration of failing to deliver on promises made in December to make COVID-19 testing kits readily available to combat a winter coronavirus surge. The reporter asked Psaki about DeSantis' critiques of the Biden administration's strategy to have most people tested for the virus and the governor's statements that it would be better to only test "vulnerable" people in nursing homes, those residing in long-term care facilities, and those within senior communities.
"We have taken a number of steps to provide tests at a much larger, expansive capacity than that to vulnerable communities across the country. That has been part of the president's effort to quadruple our testing capacity," Psaki said, noting that the administration has worked to provide 5 million tests to communities "that need help the most."
Responding to DeSantis' criticisms, she accused the Florida governor of neglecting to advocate for COVID-19 vaccines.
"I would say it's pretty rich coming from Gov. DeSantis, given he is somebody who has been not exactly advocating for people in his state to get vaccinated, which we know is the way people can be protected, [the] way that lives can be saved," she added. "And if he wants to be a constructive part of this process then perhaps he should encourage what scientists say is the best way to save lives, prevent and reduce hospitalization, and that is getting vaccinated and getting boosted."
The accusation that DeSantis has not advocated for COVID-19 vaccination is demonstrably false. In January 2021, the DeSantis administration prioritized older and more vulnerable residents in Florida retirement communities for access to the vaccines. Though a "60 Minutes" hit piece in April used deceptively edited footage to advance a conspiracy theory that DeSantis engaged in a "pay to play" scheme with COVID-19 vaccination distribution, those allegations were disputed by several Democrat officials in Florida who worked with the governor to distribute vaccines.
DeSantis has repeatedly urged Florida residents who are eligible to get vaccinated to do so. In July, he said the vaccines were "saving lives," noting that 95% of the people being admitted to hospitals in Florida with COVID-19 complications were unvaccinated.
“If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals ... over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all,” DeSantis said at the time. “These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
Today, 63.6% of Florida's population is fully vaccinated, including over 95% of seniors, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Commenting on Psaki's false statement, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said on Twitter, "She lies brazenly because she knows the media won’t fact check her."
As for COVID testing, DeSantis went on "Fox & Friends" Thursday to announce his plan to distribute one million at-home COVID-19 tests to seniors in his state. He slammed the Biden administration, accusing the president of failing to keep his promises to "shut down" the virus.
"The Biden administration promised they were going to send all these at-home tests," DeSantis said. "They said all you had to do is go online and get it, and nothing has happened in a month and a half with doing that."
"We've secured a million at-home tests," he continued. "We're going to be distributing them to nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the state of Florida and then to the broader senior communities throughout our population because we view testing as something that should lead to then a clinical result."
Last month, the Biden administration said it would make 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests available for free, but delays have prevented the federal government from accomplishing its goal.
Demand for testing has skyrocketed in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases have surged in Florida. The Florida Sun Sentinel reports that drive-thru and walk-up testing sites are reporting long lines and pharmacies are experiencing a supply shortage of testing kits.
The DeSantis administration says it is unnecessary to provide everyone with a COVID-19 test. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said Tuesday that the Florida Department of Health is going to prioritize "high value testing" for "populations for whom testing is more likely to change outcomes."
"The guidance that we’re going to be putting out will be talking about … testing based on risk factors, based on risk level. Because that’s the primary item that determines whether or not a test is actually likely to make a difference,” Ladapo said, according to WUSF.
The governor criticized using COVID-19 tests to clear people for air travel or for returning to work, or for having young people who do not have virus symptoms tested.
“A lot of those tests are not a good use of testing. Testing really needs to be focused on the people that have clinical symptoms. So you have people that are symptomatic, and they may not have as good of access because you have so many other tests being used in ways which really aren’t a good use of resources,” DeSantis said.