Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doubled down on Tuesday as the state once again broke its record for hospital admissions for COVID-19, insisting that the rise will abate soon and that it will not impose any restrictions on work or hide mandates.
With the now more contagious delta variant spreading wildly, Florida had 11,515 hospitalized patients on Tuesday, breaking last year’s record for the third day in a row. Hospitalizations increased 11 times over 1,000 patients infected with the novel coronavirus in mid-June. There are now about 2,400 patients in intensive care.
DeSantis said he expects hospitalizations to drop in the next two weeks, stressing that the rise is seasonal as Florida residents spend more time together indoors to escape the summer heat and humidity.
DeSantis credited his COVID-19 response, which focused on vaccinating seniors and nursing home residents, for the fact that fewer Florida residents are now dying than last August. A year ago, Florida averaged about 180 deaths from COVID-19 per day during an early August spike, but last week it averaged 58 deaths per day. Mortality does not rise until a few weeks after hospitalization because the disease usually takes weeks to kill.
“Even out of a lot of positive tests, you see a much lower death rate than it was last year,” he said at a Miami-area news conference. “Would I prefer to have 5,000 cases among the 20-year-old or 500 cases among the elderly? I’d rather have a younger one.”
DeSantis also said that “media hysteria” about the ballooning numbers could cause people to have a heart attack or stroke to avoid going to the emergency room for fear of infection. Doctors interviewed by the Associated Press acknowledge that this happened during the early months of the pandemic, but say it is no longer true, and they are treating the usual number of heart patients.
Almost like a war zone scenario.
Hospitals across the state report having to put emergency room visitors in beds in the aisles and others are documenting a marked reduction in patients’ lifespans. Some hospitals are banning visitors again or postponing elective surgeries.
“They are just coming in faster than we get them out,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the state’s largest hospitals caring for low-income patients. However, he said, few hospitals will run out of rooms where they can convert non-traditional spaces such as conference areas into COVID-19 suites if necessary.
Dr. O’Neill Pike, chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center in Miami, said his doctors, nurses and other staff are facing burnout again. Treating COVID-19 patients is labour-intensive and many Florida hospitals are facing staff shortages.
“Some nurses describe this as a war zone scenario,” he said.
DeSantis is running for re-election next year as he looks forward to running for the presidency in 2024. A central tenet of his national image among conservatives is his refusal to impose mandates for masks in schools and in public spaces or to impose restrictions on business. He sent that message back on Tuesday, saying he wouldn’t budge.
“We’re not closing,” DeSantis said. We are going to open schools. We are protecting the job of every Florida resident in this state. We are protecting people’s small businesses. These interventions have failed over and over again during this pandemic, not just in the US but abroad. They haven’t stopped the spread, especially with Delta “.
DeSantis has encouraged people to get vaccinated, saying that while it’s not a perfect barrier against disease, the shots provide a powerful defense against contracting a serious illness. Hospital officials said about 95 percent of those hospitalized and nearly all of the recent deaths were among the unvaccinated. The Florida counties with the lowest vaccination rates and some of the highest hospitalization rates per capita are largely Republican.
“You can still test positive, but at the end of the day you can turn this from something that was a much greater threat to older adults, for example, to something that is more controllable,” said DeSantis, who was vaccinated. “This is a huge, huge thing.”
The rise came amid a power struggle between DeSantis and local officials over how to protect children and staff as the school year begins.
The Broward County School Board voted last week to require face coverings when in-person learning resumes this month, enforcing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest recommendations. But the council reversed itself after DeSantis signed an executive order blocking mask mandates in schools, and enabling the state to deny funding to any district that does not comply.
Broward’s Council has responded to the latest science on the virus, suggesting that although vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19, they can still spread the infection among those who haven’t gotten their vaccinations. This disclosure prompted the CDC to recommend “comprehensive indoor disguise for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
“This is Terrifying”
“Unfortunately, Dade and Broward County are leading the nation in hospitals,” Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said Monday. “The numbers double every 10 or 11 days. An engineering advance. That’s terrifying.”
The Republican governor said he wants parents to decide whether their children should wear a mask at school. He also claimed that the outbreak is seasonal, with people congregating indoors to avoid the heat and humidity of Florida.
A law signed in May gives DeSantis the power to override local public health emergency measures, including mask mandates and restrictions on business operations. It also prohibits any company or government entity from requesting proof of vaccination.
Broward County now says it will encourage, but will not require, students 12 or older, as well as teachers and staff, to get vaccinated. It will also encourage the use of face coverings.
“Safety remains our top priority,” the region’s statement said.