ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday addressed the rising number of coronavirus infections in the state and said the key to stopping a surge in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths is to increase the statewide vaccination rate.
“These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality,” DeSantis said during a news conference in St. Petersburg. “I can tell you that we’re going to end up having over 95% of folks that end up seriously ill from this point on are going to be people who are not vaccinated. And so, that’s the single most important thing that people can understand.”
DeSantis addressed vaccine hesitancy, saying that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the small risk of side effects.
“There are occasionally some side effects, but if you’re 70 years old, man, the benefit is so much better than worrying about some of that. It’s not even close,” he added.
At 47.9%, Florida ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to the percentage of its residents that are fully vaccinated, according to Mayo Clinic. An AARP analysis found less than 42% of nursing home staff in Florida had been fully vaccinated by June 20, the second-lowest in the nation.
DeSantis said although there is no statewide vaccine mandate, he still encourages residents to get the shot. He also said a better effort needs to be made to reach people who are skeptical of authorities without using scare tactics.
“I think it’s important to just be honest with them about the risks of COVID. If they are in a less risky category you should just be honest with that and not try to scare people into taking it, which a lot of these authorities have done. They see that and I think that they’re very keen on that,” he said.
DeSantis, who has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate since the start of the pandemic, also criticized those who have called for vaccinated residents to wear masks.
“Understand what that message is sending to people who aren’t vaccinated. It’s telling them that the vaccines don’t work. I think that’s the worst message you can send to people at this time because I think that the data has been really, really good in terms of preserving people, saving people’s lives, reducing mortality dramatically,” DeSantis said.
Although the CDC does not recommend masks for those who are vaccinated, some health officials say it helps slow the spread of the virus because it’s possible for those who are vaccinated and not showing symptoms to still spread the virus.
Mask mandates have been reinstated in California and are being discussed in hot spots such as Arkansas and Missouri, where cases have spiked and many residents remain unvaccinated, the Washington Post reported.
After the delta variant took hold in Florida, the number of COVID-19 quickly increased. Nearly 20% of all the nation’s new infections were reported in Florida last week, the worst in the U.S., according to the CDC.
“I’ve never been driven by the case counts because you have people who may test positive, now we know, who are vaccinated and so there’ll be positive but they’re almost entirely not going to get a serious illness. So to me it’s about preventing the illness, not a positive test,” DeSantis said.
Florida also led the nation in hospitalizations with more than 3,600 from July 7 to July 14, according to the CDC data.
Jacksonville-area hospital officials say they have around the same number of COVID-19 patients at the peak of the pandemic, which was before the vaccine was released. Almost all of the new patients have the delta variant and more than 95% are unvaccinated, the hospitals told News4Jax.
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, said Wednesday the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approximately 64% effective at preventing infection from the delta variant but are 94% effective at preventing severe illness.