Gov. Ron DeSantis talks at a news conference about the new Omicron variant. Nov. 29, 2021. Credit: Florida Channel.
A new COVID-19 variant called omicron that emerged in South Africa has some state officials already bracing for potential cases if the variant of concern is detected in the United States.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis is adamant: Lockdowns are “not going to happen in the state of Florida, you can take that to the bank.”
The governor also stressed at an afternoon press conference that shutdowns don’t work and that “you can’t cripple your society for fear of a variant where we don’t have any meaningful data on.”
“We are not going to allow here in Florida any media driven hysteria to do anything to infringe people’s individual freedoms when it comes to any type of COVID variants,” DeSantis said. He said that “when I saw (Anthony) Fauci on TV yesterday saying that he couldn’t rule out lockdowns…let me just say in Florida, we will not let them lock you down.”
So far, Florida hasn’t announced any plans to prepare for a threat of the COVID-19 mutation if cases arise in the state. In fact, DeSantis didn’t appear to mention such plans at all when he spoke to the reporters Monday.
That said, Democrats in the Florida House are saying that Florida should prepare for a potential threat.
“We don’t know enough about this variant yet. I understand why people are very concerned, rightfully so because some of the transmission data is terrifying,” state Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.
“We don’t know if the severity is worst yet,” said Jenne, who is the House Democratic Co-Leader.
Jenne added that state officials should address the threats from variants.
“How long do we keep dodging variants? The longer we let COVID go on and on, it gives more room for more variants to crop up and spread here in Florida but throughout the entire world…we need leaders who are going to be able to step out there, and medical leaders that are going to be able to step out there and really save people. This is serious,” he said.
Recently, the World Health Organization classified the B.1.1.529, known as the omicron variant, as a variant of concern on Nov. 26, according to a statement on its website. The agency said in a statement on Friday that the omicron variant is concerning because “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs [variants of concern].”
Cases of the variant have been increasing throughout South Africa, the WHO added.
So far, the United States hasn’t reported any cases as of Monday afternoon, but federal officials are saying that the omicron variant is expected to eventually emerge in the country. On Monday, President Joe Biden said, “Sooner or later we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States,” as reported by CNN.
“We’ll have to face this new threat just as we face those who have come before it,” Biden added, according to a CNN report. That report also mentioned travel restrictions went into effect Monday that restricts travel from several countries in Southern Africa to offer more time for the country to respond.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency due to potential threats from the omicron variant, according to her Twitter account. The governor sent a series of tweets to warn residents about the variant and announced that she’d signed an executive order to allow officials “to acquire critical supplies more quickly to combat the pandemic.”
“We continue to see warning signs of spikes in COVID this winter, and while the new omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Hochul said in a Tweet on Friday. “Today I signed an Executive Order to help @HealthNYGov boost hospital capacity ahead of potential spikes.”
Two cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Canada and cases continue to emerge around the world, the Washington Post reported. Infections have been found in countries such as Australia, Israel and Britain, according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a written statement on Friday that “we expect omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.”
“No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date,” the CDC said. “We are grateful to the South African government and its scientists who have openly communicated with the global scientific community and continue to share information about this variant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC.”
DeSantis said Monday afternoon that measures used to halt COVID-19 didn’t stop the virus.
“The lockdowns didn’t stop COVID. Forced masking they said last year would end the pandemic if 80 percent wore masks, many more than that were wearing masks and it hasn’t worked. They said you could get COVID off of surfaces, which isn’t true. They have not been honest about the origins of the virus.”
As to travel restrictions now in place globally over omicron, DeSantis said:
“With these travel restrictions, I was probably the first governor in January of 2020 to call for travel restrictions from China, I supported President Trump when he did that. But we have to take a step back and acknowledge that those travel restrictions just didn’t work. The virus had already spread so whatever this variant is, the fact that you identify some in Southern Africa, that does not mean that it’s not in any corner of the globe….I think those restrictions are not going to work.”
Although health experts are still studying the variant, “omicron seems likely to be more contagious than Delta, including among vaccinated people,” according to The New York Times report.
DeSantis said: “The South African doctor who identified it, you know, she said this has been very mild. So why would you be doing knee-jerk reactions?
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