TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida is not shutting down and COVID-19 "hospital admissions have slowed," Gov. Ron DeSantis emphatically declared on Tuesday, despite yet another day of record coronavirus hospitalizations in the Sunshine State.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said 11,515 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida on Monday, including 2,400 in ICU beds.
In the face of that staggering number, DeSantis on Tuesday argued that statewide lockdowns have "failed time and time again throughout this pandemic" and "they have not stopped the spread."
"In terms of shutting down, we're not shutting down," DeSantis said during a news conference at Everglades National Park. "We're gonna have schools open. We're protecting every Floridian's job in this state. We're protecting people's small businesses."
For the second time in just three days, Florida has recorded a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
On Sunday, HHS reported that 10,593 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Now on Tuesday, that number has climbed by 922 patients.
While DeSantis admitted that emergency room visits for COVID-like illness (CLI) went up "sharply" in July, he seemed to dismiss the record spike in hospitalizations, instead claiming they're now "plateauing."
"We are watching the CLI. That is plateauing. The hospital admissions have slowed. I don't think we've reached the peak yet. But I think we're gonna settle in hopefully this week or next week," DeSantis said.
Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried -- who's running against DeSantis in the 2022 election -- quickly took to Twitter on Tuesday, saying the governor's claim that COVID-19 hospitalizations have slowed is simply "not true."
Our governor just said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Florida have slowed. That's not true.
Please follow the data and facts.
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) August 3, 2021
The governor on Tuesday said hospitals in Florida are seeing a lower median age of COVID-19 patients because more older residents are vaccinated against the virus.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 85% of Floridians ages 65 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of July 29.
Between 12-to-39-year-olds, the highest percentage of those vaccinated is just 49%.
During Tuesday's news conference, DeSantis touted his administration's "Seniors First" vaccination strategy -- which started in late December and early January -- as a major factor in reducing COVID-19 mortality rates in Florida by 70% to 75% from this same time last year.
While the governor said almost 25,000 fully vaccinated Floridians have tested positive for COVID-19, he said their symptoms have been less severe.
"Yes, there are positive tests among vaccinated. At the same time, the mortality and all that data is very, very clear," DeSantis said. "We think that even amidst a lot of positive tests, you still see much less mortality than we did year-over-year. That's important."
With DeSantis vehemently opposed to any type of coronavirus-related restrictions in the Sunshine State, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday urged the governor to do more to encourage people to get vaccinated and wear face masks, including allowing school districts to mandate facial coverings for students, which Psaki said is "not the current state of play in Florida."
"At a certain point, leaders are gonna have to choose whether they're gonna follow public health guidelines or they're going to follow politics," Psaki said. "And we certainly encourage all governors to follow the public health guidelines."
Psaki added that 20% of new COVID-19 cases nationwide are in Florida.