Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) blamed the Biden administration for COVID-19 woes in his state while accusing other state leaders of allowing “hysteria” to reign as they encourage mitigation measures against the virus that he claimed had little basis in sound science.
“In terms of Florida, you look what’s going on in other states, they’re letting hysteria drive them to doing really damaging things. We thought that people had learned,” DeSantis said during his first news conference in weeks on Monday after record-setting COVID-19 numbers spread across the state last month. “They’re closing schools, they’re doing things that should not be done. That is not the way you deal with this.”
DeSantis, who has routinely promoted monoclonal antibodies since former President Donald Trump credited the treatment for his recovery, said his administration was worried about dwindling supplies, even as several of the approved treatments appear to be less effective in fighting off Omicron.
“We were concerned about what was happening with the taking back of the supply—even more so than has been—of monoclonal antibodies,” DeSantis said. “It’s something that we actually have seen applied with Omicron patients and we have seen symptoms resolved.”
The treatments had become a critical weapon in warding off hospitalization in high-risk infections, but some hospitals in recent weeks had begun cutting back the treatments as growing evidence suggested that two of the three monoclonal antibody treatments they had relied on to provide relief against past variants do not offer the same shield against the highly contagious new Omicron strain.
DeSantis claimed on Monday that the administration’s initial decision to pause shipments of Regeneron and the Eli Lilly treatments had been based on what he called “some preliminary study” suggesting that they might not be as effective against Omicron.
“But Omicron isn’t the only variant out there,” he said.
Last week, the state’s Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, issued a letter that ripped the Department of Health and Human Services for “actively preventing the effective distribution” of monoclonal antibody treatments even as the administration began allocating doses of sotrovimab, a treatment which appears to continue to be effective against the Omicron variant.
Ladapo on Monday also said he hoped to “unwind the testing mentality the federal government has gotten us into over the last two years,” after Florida reported more than 298,000 new COVID-19 cases last week and a test positivity rate of 26.5 percent.
“It’s important people are making decisions they want about vaccinations, and enjoy the fact that many people have natural immunity,” he said.
Although there has been some debate over just how many of the overwhelming number of new cases can be attributed to the Omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the troubling new strain accounted for roughly 58.6 percent of new cases in the United States for the week concluding on Christmas.
Adjusting its position on the paused shipments last week, HHS said that clinical guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Dec. 30, 2021, indicated “significant variability in prevalence” of the Omicron variant and opted to allow states to continue ordering both products.
The Broward Health Medical Center news conference marked the governor’s first public event since he was criticized for appearing at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on New Year’s Eve for the Orange Bowl weeks after a crush of new infections fueled by the Omicron variant clobbered the state.
DeSantis, who established a national profile as a leading opponent against various coronavirus-related mitigation measures, also blamed the CDC for “bad policy” on quarantining healthy kids that kept some students from attending school as cases cropped up in classrooms.
The governor insisted—despite ample evidence to the contrary—that masks were largely ineffective and that kids “do not need to be doing any crazy mitigation.”
“Just let them be kids,” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear, a lot of this mitigation, it hasn’t worked period.”
DeSantis drilled down on masks in particular, shredding Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts who have continued to defend their use, claiming that “it’s not ultimately really sound science.”
“You even see some of these TV doctors on CNN admitting that cloth masks are not going to stop—protect against Omicron,” DeSantis said. “Simply putting cloth over and thinking that somehow that is going to provide good protection, that’s just not accurate.”
The comments appeared to refer to an effort by CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen urging Americans to upgrade their masks in light of Omicron’s transmissibility.
“We need to be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask,” Wen told the network, adding that for months scientists have been pushing for widespread use of face coverings that are better able to keep out tiny particles. “You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone.”