Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed concerns Tuesday about record COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Florida and the highly contagious new delta variant spreading in schools as they reopen this month.
“I think kids are very low risk,” said DeSantis, who recently signed an executive order aimed at outlawing mask mandates in schools, adding: “I’m confident things will go well.”
The governor’s prohibition on universal school masking has drawn criticism from the White House and a range of health experts, but on Tuesday he reiterated his stance that he’s “empowering” parents to choose whether to mask their kids.
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DeSantis held events in Sarasota and Miami Tuesday amid a record-setting spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but said the situation is not as dire as some have portrayed it and focused on other data to make his case.
“That has basically leveled off since last week,” he said. “I’d like to see that go down. Once that starts going down then the other indicators will follow.”
Florida is a national epicenter for the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, but unlike with previous waves there has been little effort at the state or local level to mitigate the surge in cases. DeSantis opposes restrictions on businesses and statewide mask requirements, and also has limited what local governments can do.
Vaccinations have been starting to climb again in Florida after falling for months, but are nowhere near the April peak.
DeSantis was active in vaccination distribution efforts earlier this year, but has been criticized for not doing more lately to promote the vaccine. The governor touched on how effective the vaccines are Tuesday, noting 25,000 vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized in Florida since May 1.
“What you’re seeing is the severity is much less in those cases,” he said.
The governor also emphasized his strategy of getting vaccines to seniors first, touting the fact that the vast majority of Florida seniors are vaccinated, which could prevent the latest surge from being as deadly.
Florida had 11,515 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday, according to the Florida Hospital Association, the third straight day of record hospital cases.
Some Florida hospitals have been struggling to manage the increase in cases. The AdventHealth hospital system in Central Florida recently went to “black” status and announced that elective surgeries are being delayed.
Many hospitals have also limited visitors.
DeSantis said Florida’s hospital system isn’t overwhelmed.
“Obviously media does hysteria, you try to fearmonger, you try to do this stuff and when they’ll talk about hospitalizations, our hospitals are open for business,” DeSantis said in Miami, adding: “I don’t want to see a repeat because of the media hysteria where people who have heart problems or stroke are not going in to get care”
DeSantis addressed the COVID-19 surge during two environmental events, one in Miami focused on Everglades restoration and another in Sarasota highlighting red tide mitigation research.
A red tide bloom has been fouling waters and killing sea life in coastal Sarasota and Manatee counties, and in the Tampa Bay area, for weeks.
The governor traveled to a research facility in eastern Sarasota County operated by Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, which received $18 million in state funding over six years to study ways to eradicate red tide.
DeSantis toured the facility, where a host of different technologies are being tested by organizations that have partnered with Mote.
“There’s a lot of optimism,” surrounding the research, DeSantis said.
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at email@example.com