TALLAHASSEE — The head of Florida’s largest hospital association warned that the skyrocketing number of Covid hospitalizations is unlike anything the state has seen before — even as Gov. Ron DeSantis downplays the spike.
The Florida Hospital Association on Monday reported 10,389 Covid-19 hospitalizations, the most statewide during any point in the pandemic. This follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting over the weekend that the state had more than 21,000 new coronavirus infections on Friday. It was the highest one-day total for Florida, which now makes up roughly one and five new cases nationally.
About 95 percent of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, and Mary Mayhew, the president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said the Delta variant that is sweeping through Florida is infecting young and unvaccinated people and is much different than the previous strain.
“We have to convince 25-year-olds, 30-year-olds that this is now life threatening for them,” Mayhew said during an interview on Morning Joe. “That is not what they saw and what we experienced last year.”
As Florida’s coronavirus infections continue to soar, public health officials and local elected leaders have pressed the DeSantis administration to take more drastic steps to get the virus under control. DeSantis, however, has maintained a strict “no-mandate” approach to the virus, including touting an executive order last week that prohibits school districts from requiring masks in K-12 facilities. He also vowed to fight any cities or municipalities that try to institute Covid restrictions, including mask mandates or lockdowns.
DeSantis’ administration points to the Covid cases in the younger population as evidence of the governor’s successful push to get the elderly in the state vaccinated. More than 85 percent of those older than 65 in Florida have been fully vaccinated. Overall, about 52 percent of Florida’s population is fully vaccinated.
“We recognize that cases and hospitalizations have shifted to a younger demographic because we have been so successful with vaccinating seniors,” said DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw, who added that the vaccinated made up 6 percent of new infections last month. “Again, we must continue this stride to expand vaccination rates across eligible age groups.”
Yet on Sunday night, Pushaw sparred with reporters on Twitter over the increase in Covid hospitalizations at Tallahassee’s largest hospital, Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. At one point, Pushaw noted the city is Democratic-leaning and questioned why more people did not get vaccinated even though a reporter tweeted a story quoting Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare chief communications officer Stephanie Derzypolski saying “this is the most we’ve ever had.”
Pushaw has since deleted the tweets.
In a statement issued through Pushaw on Monday, the Florida agency responsible for the state’s Medicaid program and licensing health care facilities tried to counter Mayhew’s statements that the state’s hospitals are overflowing with patients.
Tiffany Vause, deputy chief of staff for the Agency for Health Care Administration, said that hospitals across the state report that 82 percent of inpatient beds are in use, and only 18 percent of those are related to Covid-19. At the peak of Covid-19 hospitalizations in July 2020, 79 percent of inpatient beds were in use, with 27 percent of those beds being occupied by Covid-19 patients.
DeSantis has urged all Floridians to get vaccinated, and Florida has fully vaccinated 10 million people, state records show. An additional 98,696 got fully vaccinated last week, while another 235,368 received their first doses, continuing an uptick in recent weeks. The 334,064 doses administered last week is up 40 percent from the first week of July.
Yet the state is trending in the wrong direction in almost every other measurable Covid-19 category. Last week, Florida reported 110,477 new cases, which is a nearly 600 percent increase from the 15,998 new cases reported just four weeks earlier. Over the past month, the statewide positivity rate has jumped from 5.3 to 18.1 percent.
The Covid-19 resurgence has put Florida and DeSantis back in the national spotlight. His 2022 challengers have spent the past month attacking DeSantis over what they say is a failed response.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis for the governorship, has started holding daily Covid-19 briefings as DeSantis has moved away from that practice. On Monday, she reiterated that the governor should be doing daily briefings as well as more to promote pop-up vaccine sites. She also urged DeSantis to offer incentives for people to get the shot, which is something DeSantis has said he opposes. In the absence of such a campaign, Orange County Public Schools will begin offering $200 for any staffers who can show proof of vaccination.
“He’s doing just the opposite — not talking about it,” said Fried, who said her office has needed to fill the daily “void.”
She also hammered DeSantis’ recent push to block schools from imposing mask mandates, including the signing of last week’s executive order.
“To say it’s not as bad as it was in the height of the pandemic last year is inaccurate, dishonest and dangerous,” she said. “Things are the worst they have ever been in the state throughout this pandemic with Florida now leading the nation per capita in hospitalizations.”
Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican Florida governor who is also challenging DeSantis, last week said DeSantis has “blood on his hands.”
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