Nikki Fried calls on DeSantis to declare state of emergency, accept fed help

As COVID rages, one-fifth of FL hospitals have critical staffing shortages

By: - August 16, 2021 4:09 pm

In a negative-pressure treatment room, intensive-care staff attend to to a COVID patient on Aug. 10. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Citing new state and federal COVID-19 statistics, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried called on Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday to declare a state of emergency and draw down federal disaster assistance.

In her daily announcements of updated COVID data, Fried said Monday that conditions in Florida are becoming dire, yet DeSantis has shown no interest in issuing emergency orders other than to block local restrictions such as mask-wearing mandates, recommended by the CDC, and vaccine mandates.

“Our hospitals and our health care workers are overwhelmed. We’re hearing reports that pediatric and rural hospitals across the state are filling up and some already at capacity,” Fried said during a Zoom event later posted on her department’s social media pages.

“Governor, it is time that we issue a state of emergency. Our hospitals need this, our medical providers, our resources to our locals. It is past time. There are federal resources that we can’t access without a state of emergency being declared.

“There is no excuse to not ask for all the help that we can get,” Fried concluded.

Nearly 26,000 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida were reported overnight Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pandemic total death toll rose to 40,766, including 1,071 in the past week, according to the Florida Department of Health weekly report issued Friday.

Florida hospitals were treating 15,962 COVID patients — including 170 children — pushing hospitals to 84 percent of full capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS reported that 3,357 COVID patients were in intensive care units, which were at 92 percent of full capacity. More than half (51.46 percent) of the intensive-care patients were COVID patients.

One-fifth of the 198 Florida hospitals that reported data had reached critical staffing shortages, according to the HHS report Monday. That is based on 37 hospitals reporting shortages in real time, 161 reporting their shortages are not yet critical, and 59 not reporting.

Also Monday, the governor announced during a press conference in Orlando that free monoclonal antibody therapy is now available without a prescription at a “Regeneron Clinic” at World Camping Stadium in Orlando. He said the therapy for people infected with COVID-19 fends off severe illness if administered early.

The CDC was less enthusiastic, reporting on Aug. 10 that the therapy appears to be less effective against the Delta variant, which is now dominant, and against other variants than it was against the original coronavirus.

“Laboratory studies suggest specific monoclonal antibody treatments may be less effective for treating cases of COVID-19 caused by variants with certain substitutions or combinations of substitutions in the spike protein,” the CDC reported.

DeSantis said as many as 320 people can be treated daily, seven days a week; that appointments can be made through; and that other such clinics are planned.

With Tropical Storm Fred moving into Florida Monday, Fried and DeSantis at their respective events urged Floridians to practice COVID-safe protocols if they must evacuate their homes and gather with others, and to monitor local advisories. The storm strengthened overnight as it approached Florida’s northern Gulf Coast and was expected to generate isolated flooding from storm surge and heavy rainfall as it moves inland.

Lake Mary High School junior J.J. Holmes. Source: Screenshot/Fried’s Twitter page

At Fried’s event, the commissioner took another jab at DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in Florida schools by hosting comments by a student with a disability who supports mask mandates.

She introduced Lake Mary High School junior J.J. Holmes, whom she invited to the event.

Holmes said he is thrilled that classes have at last resumed in person but that he feels at risk if he attends because he has a disability that prevents him from wearing a face mask. Holmes has cerebral palsy and communicates via an iPad that he activates with his nose, which must be unmasked.

Holmes urged DeSantis to allow schools to impose mask mandates on behalf of students like him who need others to mask up to prevent transmission because he cannot. Otherwise, he cannot safely go to school in person, he said.

Fried highlighted that several lawsuits have been filed by parents against DeSantis on behalf of students with disabilities, accusing him of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by banning schools from requiring masks that could safeguard vulnerable students.

“What message do you have for people like Gov. DeSantis who say ‘just deal with it’ when it comes to the spread of the virus?” Fried asked Holmes.

After a long pause to enter commands on his iPad, Holmes answered via the device, “When COVID struck, and I had to do virtual school, I did deal with it. When I stayed home and isolated for the last 18 months because I cannot wear a mask, I did deal with it.  When I couldn’t get my power chair because of COVID, I did deal with it.

“When my grammy died and I couldn’t go to her funeral because of COVID, I did deal with it. I have been dealing with it. … All I have left to give up is my education and my life.”

Holmes said his favorite subject is civics and that he aspires to pursue a career in political science.

During previous briefings and events, Fried has invited speakers including Lila Hartley, a 12-year-old who wrote a letter to the Duval County School Board urging it to adopt a mask mandate to protect her unvaccinated 10-year-old brother; and Wakulla County School Board member Verna Brock, who called on the governor to stop dictating to local elected school officials about school safety during this resurgence of COVID.

Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, and a candidate for her party’s nomination to take on DeSantis in next year’s gubernatorial race, has been holding daily briefings to announce COVID data and to call on state officials to resume daily data releases, which they halted in early June.

During his event, DeSantis was asked by reporters why he has not directed the Department of Health to reinstate daily data releases and the detailed dashboard it operated last year. DeSantis did not directly answer and said the state releases the data to the CDC, where the public can find the information among national data if they so choose.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.