Aiming to dispel concerns about surging COVID-19 infections, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended the state’s efforts to combat the spread of the deadly disease.
DeSantis chalked up the rising number of cases in Florida to a seasonal pattern throughout the Sun Belt, and he noted that a vast majority of new infections are being found among unvaccinated Floridians.
“If you are vaccinated, though, the number of people that end up hospitalized after is almost zero. It’s incredibly, incredibly low,” the governor told reporters at a bill signing Monday in central Florida.
DeSantis’ remarks come as Florida grapples with a spike in new cases. In its weekly update Friday, the Department of Health reported 45,000 new cases last week, 59 deaths and a positivity rate of 11.5 percent, up from 7.8 percent.
The statistics came the same day that federal health officials singled out Florida as the largest source of new infections, making up roughly 20 percent of new cases nationwide.
“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” President Joe Biden said Friday, echoing earlier remarks made by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said most cases are cropping up in places with low-vaccination rates.
DeSantis voiced a similar sentiment while fielding questions Monday in Poinciana.
“I think the data is increasingly clear that if you have been vaccinated or if you’re recovered from COVID, because you are immune in that respect too, the chance of you being hospitalized or dying is very, very low,” he said. “I think you’re seeing that in other parts of the world and other parts of the country.”
In the United Kingdom, for instance, DeSantis said there has been a “huge” increase in positive tests, but the number of hospitalizations and deaths haven’t risen sharply over the same period.
The governor’s assertion falls in line with the latest data compiled and released by the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care. It’s unclear if that holds true in Florida.
Measuring the number of hospitalizations throughout the state is challenging. The Department of Health, which publishes weekly reports on COVID-19 infections statewide, no longer releases hospitalization data.
In Duval County, one of four Northeast Florida counties leading the state in cases per capita, figures provided by hospitals provide a clearer picture of how many people are hospitalized and how many are dying.
At UF Health Jacksonville, there were 117 COVID-19 patients Monday, a 95-percent increase over last week, and 20 patients have died since July 1. Baptist Health said it had 230 COVID-19 patients, a 72-percent increase since last Monday.
Representatives for both hospitals say 98 percent of those patients are unvaccinated.
DeSantis said that even for those whose illness is serious enough to require a trip to the hospital, there are better therapeutic treatments available now than last year.
“Obviously, the best way is to get the protection beforehand,” he said. “But if you do find yourself infected, please consult your doctor, especially if you’re in a higher-risk age group, because there are much more effective ways to mitigate the impact.”
The governor also touted Florida’s seniors-first approach to vaccinations, saying that it saved thousands of lives. Without that approach, he said, more seniors would have been exposed and more would have gotten sicker.
Even as the consensus among health experts is that COVID-19 is taking a disproportionate toll on the unvaccinated, DeSantis warned against using messaging that might undermine efforts to reach vaccine skeptics.
In the same breath, he admonished unnamed “experts” who criticized the unvaccinated, saying it’s a reason he doesn’t support mask mandates.
“We worked hard to get (the vaccine),” DeSantis said. “Everyone who’s wanted it obviously can get it. Now you’re in a situation where you have folks who may be skeptical of it, and so understand if you’re communicating, you don’t want to say things that are going to cause them to retreat even further.”
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.