MIAMI — Florida's governor is holding firm in his no-lockdown strategy as the state continues to see record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed growing concerns over the virus during a press conference Tuesday at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park.
DeSantis first spoke on the state's environmental restoration efforts in the Everglades, celebrating the removal of an old Tamiami Trail roadbed in the national park. He said the project, along with other recent efforts by the state, would increase the flow of clean water to preserve our natural resources.
The governor's press conference was held at the same time Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spoke on the state's clean water efforts in Tampa. Fried has been an outspoken critic of DeSantis and his response to Tampa Bay's red tide outbreak and, more recently, the statewide surge of COVID-19.
But among the criticism from Fried and other state and national leaders, DeSantis defended the state's no-restriction strategy.
“We're not shutting down. We're protecting every Floridian's job in this state," he said, adding that previous efforts to stop the spread have not been successful.
The governor touted his "seniors first" vaccination strategy, saying that the state successfully protected the most vulnerable group from COVID-19. He focused on the vaccine's ability to reduce the severity of the virus rather than the all-time high case numbers being reported in the state.
"Media does hysteria. You try to fear monger," DeSantis said.
He added that he didn't want this "media hysteria" to scare people into thinking that our hospitals are unable to handle COVID hospitalizations along with normal procedures.
Florida again broke the record Tuesday for the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 with an all-time high of 11,515 patients.
DeSantis' effort to downplay the current situation echoes similar comments made by his press secretary Christina Pushaw who tweeted that statewide hospitalizations had not surpassed the July 2020 peak when, in fact, they had.
Mary Mayhew, CEO of the Florida Hospital Association who formerly headed up Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration for Gov. DeSantis, says COVID-19 hospital admissions in the state over the past month have been increasing at a faster rate than at any time in 2020.
But even more challenging, she said, than last year is that overall demand for hospital services is up at the same time.
“Individuals who don’t have COVID but are sick are in our hospitals in higher numbers than you would typically see this time of year,” Mayhew said. “So overall demand is through the roof.”