Gov. DeSantis encouraged by Florida hospitalization numbers months into COVID-19 outbreak

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a COVID-19 press conference in Tallahassee.
Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a COVID-19 press conference in Tallahassee. (News4Jax)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed to empty hospital beds around the state as proof that actions taken by his administration and local governments have made an impact in the fight against COVID-19.

“Our work is succeeding,” DeSantis said during a Tuesday press conference. “We have flattened the curve. In fact, not only did the hospital system not get overwhelmed, since the pandemic started available hospital beds have increased in the state of Florida, not decreased.”

DeSantis pointed to reports from media outlets last month that looked at a model created by data scientists at COVIDACTNOW.org. The model made predictions about how many people might need to be hospitalized during the outbreak, depending on what actions are taken.

“Those predictions have been false,” DeSantis said. “So, we did not go the way of Italy. We did not go the way of New York City. In fact, we’ve done much, much better than either of those places.”

According to their calculations, if no action was taken, the number of people in Florida needing hospitalization would peak on April 24, with nearly half a million people statewide — 465,699. But DeSantis did take action, issuing a statewide stay-at-home order on March 1 along with ordering anyone arriving from the New York area and Louisiana into quarantine along with closing bars and gyms and limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery.

As of Tuesday evening, just over 4,000 people have been hospitalized in Florida since the start of the outbreak in Florida, data shows. There are now nearly 28,000 confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Florida and 867 reported deaths.

DeSantis said after efforts to increase hospital bed capacity have paid off. According to a state database that tracks hospital be availability, there are more than 24,000 beds available in the state as of Tuesday evening.

“We’ve also dramatically increased ICU Bed Availability, and that was what flattening the curve was all about because if the healthcare system gets overwhelmed, that’s obviously bad for COVID-19 patients,” DeSantis said.

Secretary of the Agency for Healthcare Administration Mary Mayhew said Monday hospital capacity is actually greater now than it was when the state’s response began, but partly because elective procedures were postposed by executive order.

Meanwhile, the Florida Medical Association has called on DeSantis to rescind the executive order issued March 20 that prohibited hospitals and surgery centers from performing nonemergency elective procedures as an effort to conserve medical supplies and protective equipment.

“While the state has understandably focused on the immediate needs of fighting COVID-19, it is imperative that we not ignore a potential second crisis: a wave of emergencies and fatalities among the people delaying care or going untreated. Many of the physician practices that would deal with this pent-up demand have seen their revenues plunge and face imminent closure,” said association President Ronald Giffler in a letter to the governor.

DeSantis held the press conference Tuesday after the meeting with the Re-Open Florida Task Force, a group of elected officials, business, education, tourism and community leaders tapped to help restart the state’s economy as safely as possible.

Florida should consider not just what businesses are essential as it seeks to begin reopening the state, but also risk factors, Gov. Ron DeSantis told a task force that met by phone Tuesday.

The Republican governor formed the task force Monday and wants recommendations for reopening the state by the end of the week.

“They categorize things as essential business and nonessential business,” DeSantis told the business and political leaders. “As we're looking about going forward in a safe way where people can get back to work, but we can try to prevent a massive resurgence in cases, it’s probably better to think of different businesses and industries in terms of risk. Is this low risk, or high risk?”

However the state moves forward, DeSantis said, testing for the virus and antibody tests will need to be expanded.

“The public will have a lot more confidence in the reopening if they see there’s testing in place," DeSantis said.

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