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Florida governor asked to apologize after attributing COVID-19 rise to 'overwhelmingly Hispanic' farmworkers

Several Democratic lawmakers in Florida are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to apologize for "appalling" comments he made last week linking "overwhelmingly Hispanic" farmworkers and day laborers to a jump in the state's number of coronavirus cases.

Natascha Ortero-Santiago, vice president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, has called on him to release "an announcement or a statement saying where he has gotten this information that Latinos are the ones spreading and are the cause of the exponential growth of COVID-19." In an email to NBC News, a DeSantis spokesperson said he has made sure farmworkers are getting tested and treated for COVID-19, and "if these Democrats were so concerned, why didn't they step up to help them?"

In April, dozens of organizations sent a letter to DeSantis and state lawmakers asking for more testing in agricultural areas and personal protective equipment for farmworkers. Most live in cramped housing, work side-by-side, and drive to and from the fields in crowded buses, making it easier for illnesses to spread. Because of that, Doctors Without Borders launched its first mission to Florida in May.

While officials say testing has recently increased in agricultural communities, Patria Rojas, a public health expert at Florida International University, told The Miami Herald there are a lot of reasons why farm workers aren't participating. Most don't have cars and can't go to a drive-thru site, they work long hours, and "anti-immigrant sentiment" forces some migrants to stay under the radar. "There's a lot of under-testing because of that," Rojas said. "If it's true that there is a lot of positive COVID-19 among the agricultural community, we don't know."

Since mid-May, Florida has had a surge in coronavirus cases, and now has more than 100,000 cases and 3,173 deaths. Most have been reported in the state's most populous area, Miami-Dade County, NBC News reports. Video and photos recently taken in Miami restaurants — nowhere near the agricultural fields — show people dancing and eating close together, not wearing masks.

DeSantis said coronavirus is spreading "in 20- and 30-year-olds faster than we would like to see," and while he has admitted an increase in testing can't be the only reason behind the spike in cases, he will not alter Florida's reopening plan or order that everyone wear masks.