JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis touted Florida’s COVID-19 response Tuesday, even as the state set a record for the number of people hospitalized with the illness for the third day in a row.
The governor said he’s been keeping tabs on the number of emergency room visits for COVID-like illness, which he views as the best indicator of the toll the virus is taking on Floridians. He said he expects that number to fall, followed by hospital admissions and other metrics such as cases.
“That is plateauing, the number of hospital admissions have slowed. I don’t think we’ve reached a peak yet, but I think we’re going to settle in hopefully this week or next week,” DeSantis told reporters during a South Florida news conference.
Data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show Florida’s hospitals are treating 11,515 patients for COVID-19, 2,400 of them in intensive care units. That’s compared to a previous record of 10,389 hospitalizations the state set Monday.
The data’s release comes as health systems throughout the state take extraordinary steps to keep up with the number of incoming patients, from placing hospital beds in hallways, limiting visitation and delaying surgeries for non-emergency procedures.
Among the hospitals grappling with an influx of patients is Mayo Clinic, which notified the Agency for Health Care Administration on Sunday it has exceeded its capacity of 304 licensed beds “due to the significant increase in COVID-19 inpatients.”
Now, the hospital said, some patients are being treated in unlicensed beds.
The governor said his administration will not impose any restrictions, such as mask mandates for schools or limits on how businesses operate, saying they do not work when it comes to containing the spread.
Those remarks were on message for DeSantis, who has consistently voiced his opposition to any effort to require masks in schools. Most recently, he signed an executive order banning school districts from issuing mask mandates, or else they could lose state funding.
“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to have schools open. We’re protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We’re protecting small businesses. These interventions have failed time and time again, not just in the United States but abroad. They have not stopped the spread,” the governor said.
“And particularly with (the delta variant), which is even more transmissible, if it didn’t stop it before, it definitely ain’t going to stop it now.”
DeSantis said Florida’s best defense against COVID-19 is a combination of the immunity that the state’s population will build up over time and its seniors-first approach to vaccinations, which prioritized giving shots to the elderly and long-term care facilities.
“Look, at the end of the day, would I rather have 5,000 cases among 20-year-olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger, because of the effect it has,” the governor said.
DeSantis lashed out at the media and unnamed “experts,” characterizing news coverage of the number of hospitalizations as “hysteria” and “fearmongering.” He said he did not wish to see a repeat of 2020 when people with emergencies, such as heart attacks or stroke, refused to go to the hospital.
The governor noted that Jackson Health System in South Florida is seeing half the number of COVID-19 patients as it was at the same time last year. He said the number of patients elsewhere are a fraction of the overall number of hospital beds.
“Our hospitals are open for business,” he said.
DeSantis did not mention Jacksonville, which has seen its hospitalizations for COVID-19 soar in recent weeks.
Mayo Clinic has activated its surge capacity plan after surpassing its bed capacity.
Baptist Health’s five Northeast Florida hospitals are now treating 504 COVID-19 patients combined, or 39 percent of its overall bed capacity, which includes 1190 licensed beds and an additional100 beds it has in case of a surge.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients occupy 239 (or 34%) of UF Health Jacksonville’s 695 total beds.