DeSantis aims to quell COVID-19 concerns, pointing to lack of hospitalizations

DeSantis aims to quell COVID-19 concerns, pointing to lack of hospitalizations

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Aiming to dispel concerns about Florida’s surging COVID-19 infections, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended the state’s efforts to combat the spread of the deadly disease.

DeSantis sought to assuage unease about the state’s rising caseload, chalking up the rising number of cases in Florida to a seasonal pattern throughout the Sun Belt. He also noted that a vast majority of new infections are being found among unvaccinated Floridians.

“If you are vaccinated, though, the number of people that end up hospitalized after is almost zero. It’s incredibly, incredibly low,” the governor told reporters at a bill signing Monday in central Florida.

DeSantis’ remarks come as Florida grapples with a spike in new cases. In its weekly update Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 45,000 new cases last week, 59 deaths and a weekly positivity rate that swelled to 11.5 percent, up from 7.8 percent.

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The statistics came the same day that federal health officials singled out Florida as the largest source of new infections, making up roughly 20 percent of new cases nationwide. In Friday’s briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said 1 in 5 of all cases is happening in Florida.

Acknowledging the problem Friday, President Joe Biden said the “only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.” His remarks echoed those of Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said most new cases are cropping up low-vaccination areas.

DeSantis reiterated that sentiment while fielding reporters’ questions Monday in Poinciana.

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“I think the data is increasingly clear that if you have been vaccinated or if you’re recovered from COVID, because you are immune in that respect too, the chance of you being hospitalized or dying is very, very low,” he said. “I think you’re seeing that in other parts of the world and other parts of the country.”

In the United Kingdom, for instance, DeSantis said there has been a “huge” increase in positive tests, but the number of hospitalizations and deaths haven’t risen sharply over the same period.

The governor’s assertion falls in line with the latest data compiled by the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care, though it’s unclear if that holds true in Florida.

Measuring the number of hospitalizations throughout the state is challenging.

The Florida Department of Health, which publishes weekly reports on COVID-19 infections statewide, no longer regularly releases hospitalization figures as part of those data snapshots.

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Yet in Duval County, one of four Northeast Florida counties leading the state in cases per capita, figures provided by hospitals provide a clearer picture of how many people are hospitalized. One hospital said last week that 20 patients have died since July 1.

At UF Health Jacksonville, there were 117 COVID-19 patients as of Monday, a 95-percent increase compared to last week. Baptist Health, said Monday it had 230 COVID-19 patients, an increase of nearly 73 percent over last Monday.

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Representatives for both hospitals say the unvaccinated make up 98 percent of those cases.

DeSantis said Monday that even for those who do wind up in the hospital with COVID-19, there are better therapeutic treatments in place now than there were last year. He also cited the benefits of monoclonal antibodies, particularly for people with heightened risk factors.

“Obviously, the best way is to get the protection beforehand,” he said. “But if you do find yourself infected, please consult your doctor, especially if you’re in a higher-risk age group, because there are much more effective ways to mitigate the impact.”

The governor also touted Florida’s seniors-first approach to vaccinations, saying he believed it saved thousands of lives. Had that not been the case, he said, more seniors would have been exposed to the disease, and those who were exposed would have gotten sicker.

Even as the consensus among health experts is that COVID-19 is taking a disproportionate toll on unvaccinated people, DeSantis warned against using messaging that night undermine efforts to reach vaccine skeptics.

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In the same breath, he admonished unnamed “experts” who criticized the unvaccinated, saying it’s one reason he doesn’t support mask mandates.

“We worked hard to get (the vaccine),” DeSantis said. “Everyone who’s wanted it obviously cant get it. Now you’re in a situation where you have folks who may be skeptical of it, and so understand if you’re communicating, you don’t want to say things that are going to cause them to retreat even further.”

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

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