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Gov. DeSantis Objects To Hospital Vaccine Mandates, Plans To Fight Counties On Masks

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The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Tampa General Hospital Thursday.

As the state broke its COVID-19 hospitalization record for the third day in the row with 12,408, Gov. Ron DeSantis made clear he’s not a fan of the idea of hospitals’ requiring staff to get vaccinated. 

He wouldn't say whether he would ban the requirements during an appearance Thursday at Tampa General Hospital’s Global Emerging Disease Institute.

“It's not something I support,” DeSantis said when asked about the issue.

As the numbers of COVID-19 infections across the state spike and inpatient admissions soar, some hospitals have mandated vaccinations for staff members, including the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, Baptist Health Jacksonville and Ascension St. Vincent's.

Miami’s Jackson Health hospital will give one-time $150 bonuses to workers who are completely vaccinated by Sept. 30.

In Tampa, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted treatments for the virus. Specifically, he talked about the promise of monoclonal antibody drug cocktails, which came into the national spotlight when former President Donald Trump received the Regeneron antibody treatment for COVID last fall. According to The Tampa Bay Times, monoclonals “are most often used to treat patients who catch the virus early in its course. Patients who are severely ill from the virus are less likely to see benefits from monoclonal antibodies.” 

“That's much better than what it was last summer, when we didn't have any of this, and so a much better situation to be able to have access to the monoclonals. And we just want people to know that they are being used all throughout Florida,” the governor said. 

And though he opposes mandates, DeSantis continues to urge Floridians to get vaccinated. 

“I had hoped that the vaccines would just completely shut off any chance of infection and that you'd have big herd immunity, and that's just that obviously isn't happening. I think people are testing positive. But you do have this reduction [in symptoms, chance of hospitalization and chance of death] for the people who are vaccinated,” he said.

Even against the delta variant, mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna give strong protection against the virus and greatly reduce the severity of symptoms in rare breakthrough cases.

About 99% of individuals vaccinated against the coronavirus have not tested positive for COVID-19. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that since January, in states that track cases among vaccinated and unvaccinated patients (Florida does not report these figures), the percentage of overall cases in the fully vaccinated has ranged from 5.9% of cases in Arizona to 0.2% in Connecticut.

Baptist Health in North Florida, which has seen an extremely high concentration of COVID-19 cases, sent patients an email on Thursday urging them to encourage friends and family to get vaccinated among the recent surge in cases, saying" 

  • "More than 90% of our COVID-positive hospital patients eligible for a vaccine are not vaccinated.
  • Many of them are in their prime. In fact, 49% of our COVID-19 patients are 49 or younger.
  • Patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s are in the ICU and the majority are on ventilators."

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID in breakthrough cases account for less than 1% of all COVID hospitalizations and deaths since vaccines became available.
Vaccination appointments can be scheduled online at vaccines.gov, which includes the option to select specific locations and specific vaccine brands.

While DeSantis has repeatedly stated this week that “Florida hospitals are open for business,” multiple hospitals throughout the state have paused or temporarily suspended elective surgeries to deal with the increased load of COVID patients.

Despite this, health officials say residents should not delay needed care and go to the hospital if they’re suffering from a heart attack, stroke or severe trauma.

DeSantis has been under fire from many Florida doctors, parents and local officials since last Friday, when he signed an executive order blocking public school districts from instituting mask mandates for students, contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for schools.

During his press conference Thursday, the governor suggested baselessly that masks potentially hurt children, contrary to what’s been stated by the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

DeSantis said, “What are the harmful effects of putting a kindergartener in a mask for seven hours? Have they talked about the emotional, the academic, the physiological? Why isn't the CDC studying that? They've had a lot of time to do it.” 

Nearly two-dozen children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville over the past three weeks, including a 16-year-old who died there on Thursday

Similar to recent statements by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, DeSantis also said Thursday that some schools without mask mandates in Florida fared better against COVID-19 than schools with mask requirements. Neither provided specific examples, but even if some schools without mask mandates had low rates of infection, that wasn't the general trend. A March CDC analysis of Florida school districts statewide found lower rates of infections last year in schools with mask mandates, a higher proportion of students in remote learning, and those using social distancing measures.  

Duval County has made masks mandatory for all staff, teachers and faculty, and requires students to wear masks unless their parents go through an opt-out process. Attorneys from Pinellas County in the Tampa Bay area plan to sue the governor over the mask requirement ban. 

Broward County in South Florida has instituted a school mask mandate, with plans to hold a special meeting on the governor’s order before the school year starts, and Alachua County has instituted a two-week mask mandate for the start of the school year.

DeSantis’ order threatens to cut the funding of school districts that implement mandatory masks, a move that prompted some school districts to reverse plans for a mandate, including some private schools.

“It's parents’ choice in Florida, and government can’t override the parents, so we believe the parents are the ones that have the choice,” DeSantis said in response to school districts that have forged ahead with mask mandates. “Alachua County can’t override the parents. I think that's pretty clear from the Parents Bill of Rights that I signed. And quite frankly, I think that that's the right thing to do.”

The state’s Department of Education and Department of Health are tasked with enforcing his order, and the DOE plans to meet to discuss new rules on Friday.

However, the Board appears to be pursuing a strategy that doesn’t penalize school districts but gives parents who oppose mask mandates the chance to change schools through an expanded use of vouchers. 

Through an emergency rule, parents who oppose mask mandates would be able to apply to the Hope Scholarship program, normally reserved for students who are victims of bullying, to get state-funded tuition vouchers to private schools without mask mandates.

The News Service of Florida's Christine Sexton contributed to this report.