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Tallahassee Mayor On Florida's Record Single-Day COVID-19 Increase

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start today with the disturbing news that Florida has set a new record for coronavirus cases. Nearly 15,300 new cases have been reported since yesterday. That's well above New York's peak of more than 12,200 new cases in one day back in April. That's when New York was the epicenter of the outbreak.

The virus is spreading at alarming rates throughout the country as states are beginning to reopen businesses and services and are trying to figure out what to do about school this fall, so we're going to spend a lot of the program today thinking about the difficult choices officials, educators and families are having to make. And we're going to start in Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida. And we're going to speak with the mayor of that city, John Dailey.

Mr. Dailey - mayor - Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us.

JOHN DAILEY: Michel, thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: So your reaction to the record-setting number of cases in the state right now.

DAILEY: Well, it's very concerning. Obviously, we speak to the health care community each and every day here locally so that our choices are driven by the data that's presented. We've seen the uptick along with all the other communities across the state, and it's very concerning.

MARTIN: So this past Friday, before this record but while cases were still climbing, Governor Ron DeSantis defended his decision to reopen the state in May. And I understand that Tallahassee has reopened in line with the governor's executive order. Are these latest figures going to influence your plans moving forward? And if so, how?

DAILEY: Well, we'd always make our decisions based on the health care community here locally in Tallahassee and on their recommendations. We have a unified response between the city, the county, the school district, the business community and, of course, the health care community and our university community.

And while we are trying to take a balance between keeping everybody safe, which is first and foremost our No. 1 priority, but also trying to open up our restaurants and retail a little bit, we take it day by day. But nonetheless, we're not afraid to take hard positions when we need to. We here in Tallahassee do have a local mask ordinance in place that was put in place by the county that we support. We do take extra precautionary measures when we feel it's appropriate.

MARTIN: So I assume that you're talking to the governor since presumably he's close by. What are you hearing from him or his staff?

DAILEY: We do have a working relationship - a good working relationship with the governor's office. They do ask questions about what we hear locally based on our numbers. But we're solely focused on the fact that, you know, we're an interesting community. We're the state capital, but we also have two universities and a community college. We have a student population coming back in the fall of roughly 70,000 students.

And then our numbers locally - we're a little unique that it is the student population and the younger population that's had a tremendous impact on our numbers. If you think about the state of Florida, the median age of positives is 39 years old. In Tallahassee, our median age is 25 years old. So you can definitely see in the data how that's impacted us. But we do talk to the governor's office on a regular basis, yes.

MARTIN: But what do you - talk to me a bit more about the student population. Are you taking any specific steps to address what you're seeing there?

DAILEY: We are. We're working hand in hand with the university community - with Florida State University, FAMU - Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University - and Tallahassee Community College. FAMU has done a tremendous job with a walk-up testing facility for the community here in Tallahassee.

Our hospitals have been working in conjunction with the Florida State medical school to get new testing done so that we can move forward with our testing, both of the university community. And it's important that we be able to provide testing and do it in a way that works for our community. But, of course, they're working through the plans to open up the universities and what is that going to look like, whether it's virtual, on campus or a combination thereof.

MARTIN: Just as briefly as you can, Mr. Mayor, how are the hospitals doing right now?

DAILEY: The hospital numbers are growing, obviously, but they're doing very well. We stay in constant contact, have contingency plans as well.

MARTIN: That is John Dailey, mayor of Tallahassee, Fla.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.

DAILEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.