Virus Outbreak Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens to Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkeesl speak about the COVID-19 virus during a March news conference.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Floridians will be keeping their distance and wearing face masks for up to a year until a COVID-19 vaccine exists, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Monday before being whisked away by the governor’s spokeswoman.

Rivkees told reporters Floridians needed to get used to current precautions, such as avoiding crowds of 10 or more and wearing face masks in public.

“Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off, this is going to be our new normal, and we need to adapt and protect ourselves,” he said.

The surgeon general’s comments appear to conflict with what Gov. Ron DeSantis and his political ally, President Donald Trump, have said about returning to pre-coronavirus life. Practicing social distancing for a year in order to prevent a second wave of outbreaks could take a significant toll on the economy, which already has ground to a halt.

Both DeSantis and Trump have worried closing the economy that long would be a cure worse than the disease, although public health experts have warned a quick return to normal could be dangerous.

It’s not clear whether DeSantis agreed with Rivkees’ assessment. DeSantis’ spokeswoman, Helen Aguirre Ferre, did not return a request for comment.

Rivkees and two other state officials were made available to speak to reporters following DeSantis’ news conference, the first time in weeks that both Rivkees and Mary Mayhew, secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration, were seen at a DeSantis news conference.

Immediately after Rivkees’ acknowledged a vaccine could be months or more than a year away, Ferre shifted attention away from Rivkees by asking reporters if they had questions for Mayhew.

When a reporter asked Mayhew a question, Ferre went up to Rivkees and the two quickly left the room. Ferre returned. Rivkees did not. His spokesman, Alberto Moscoso, said he left to attend a prescheduled meeting with DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, Adrian Lukis.

Before he left, Rivkees was asked to elaborate on his comments. He said the current social distancing measures are the only way to stop person-to-person spread of the virus.

“As long as we’re going to have COVID in the environment, and this is a tough virus, we’re going to have to practice these measures so that we are all protected,” Rivkees said.

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