DeSantis angrily defends his COVID policies during an impassioned diatribe

By: - August 3, 2021 4:07 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the press on Aug. 3, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Gov. Ron DeSantis lashed out Tuesday at critics of his COVID policy — especially questions about infections among school-age children.

DeSantis last week issued an executive order allowing families to decide whether children should wear masks at school, essentially ignoring local school board decisions. However, most if not all districts across Florida are mask optional at this point.

The governor warned not to blame people, including kids, who contract COVID.

“You’re blaming the kids, saying they weren’t wearing masks and so they’re in the ICU. With all due respect, I find that deplorable, to blame a victim who ends up being hospitalized,” he told a reporter who asked about the topic.

“You don’t know their story; you don’t know what happened with that,” the governor said.

“And this has been a really negative thing throughout this whole thing, with some of these quote experts, some of the media — somebody contracts a highly transmissible, airborne virus and they’re viewed as having done something wrong. That’s just not the way you do it. When people come in, you treat ’em.

“We, obviously, have some people that are not vaccinated that have been admitted to hospitals. Are you gonna sit there … and criticize or are we gonna try and treat and try and help the folks?” he said.

“I’m sick of the judgmental stuff on some of this stuff. Nobody’s trying to get ill here, you know? There’s people that were hermits for a year and a half that wore six masks and did that and still contracted it, OK? So let’s just be real here. Let’s not indulge these things, that somehow its their fault.”

Florida has been reporting increased infections with the highly transmissible COVID Delta variant. It is impossible to say whether the trend is continuing this week; CDC data reflected zero new cases reported on Saturday or Sunday, either because the state hadn’t given its numbers to the agency or it hadn’t posted the figures yet. The CDC has reported zero cases in recent days for several states.

Nikki Fried, the Democratic state commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, remarked on the apparent lack of up-to-date information on her Twitter feed but said she expected new numbers later Tuesday.

The CDC reported Tuesday that Florida’s new COVID-19 cases are at 17,0001, lower than the 21,683 cases published on Saturday — a high mark in connection with the pandemic.

We can report, based on CDC data for last week, that Florida saw 103,299 new cases of COVID-19 for the week — a 53 percent increase over the week before. It saw 7,452 new or suspected COVID hospitalizations, a 44 percent increase.

As of Tuesday, the number of hospitals with supply shortages remained stable at five, but the number with staff shortages grew by 50 percent, to six. The death rate per 100,000 people increased by 60 percent during the week.

Of Florida’s 55,674 hospital beds, close to 22 percent were being used by COVID patients as of Tuesday, according to federal data. Nearly 84 percent of total bed capacity were in use.

And federal public health data indicate that, as of Saturday, Florida had 120 reported pediatric hospitalizations with confirmed or suspected COVID infections.

Fried — a Democrat seeking her party’s nomination to run against DeSantis next year — disputed the governor’s take on her Twitter feed.

“Our governor just said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Florida have slowed. That’s not true. Please follow the data and facts,” Fried wrote.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, another Democrat running for governor, tweeted out a Vanity Fair article headlined, “Report: Florida Doctors Think Ron DeSantis is a National Embarrassment.”

Florida’s hospitals have also expressed alarm. Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association and former secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, said on Monday that the number of hospitalizations exceeds the former record set in late July 2020.

The governor reiterated that he won’t stand for another lockdown or school closures.

“These interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic, not just within the United States but abroad. They have not stopped the spread. And, particularly with Delta, which is more transmissible, if it didn’t stop it before it definitely ain’t gonna stop it now,” DeSantis aid.

“The best defenses we have are the combination of the natural immunity that’s been built up and our seniors-first vaccination efforts. I think that’s why you have such a steep decline in mortality year over year.

“And 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 that it has,” the governor said.

“Obviously, media does hysteria. You try to fear monger, you try to do this stuff. And, when they’ll talk about hospitalizations, our hospitals are open for business. Like I said, Jackson [Memorial Hospital in Miami], the COVID patients are half of what they were last year. Even in places that have more, COVID patients represent a fraction of the overall hospital beds.

He decried “the media hysteria where people who have heart problems or stroke are not going in to get care. That happened in March of 2020 and in April. There was a huge decline in people who would show up to the [emergency department]. Literally, people were having heart attacks at home because they thought that there weren’t either enough room in the hospital or they thought they would get COVID and die as a result of that.”

As for DeSantis’ executive order on masks in schools, it would appear to run counter to language in the Florida Constitution granting local boards authority to operate, control, and supervise public schools. The order authorizes the state Department of Education to withhold state money from boards that try to impose mask mandates.

A letter sent by State Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County to Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees raises additional questions about the order.

Farmer complained that the order “is largely if not entirely predicated on an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of accepted scientific research, outdated information (some of which is attributed to you and your department), and the proliferation of myths.”

Farmer asked Rivkees to correct the record.

“The very health, safety & well-being of students, teachers and school workers are at great risk based on an erroneous order that relies on now debunked or outdated information & analysis in your advisory,” he wrote.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.