Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said President Joe Biden has failed to “end COVID” and should follow his state’s lead, even as Florida experiences record-breaking cases, deaths and hospitalizations.

Florida is now reporting an average of 228 COVID-19 deaths each day — a state record and by far the highest count in the nation. The daily death count in Florida, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, has increased by 613% in the past seven days, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

The state reported more than 26,000 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, and 17,164 people are hospitalized with the virus, nearly tripling the hospitalization rate in the last month, according to federal data. More than 3,600 people with COVID-19 are occupying beds in intensive care units, the second-highest total in the nation.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

But in a Wednesday interview with Fox News, DeSantis defended his response, saying Florida is seeing “great success” in treating COVID patients with monoclonal antibodies — an effective, widely available therapy that few people are receiving. The Republican governor, considered a potential contender against Biden in the 2024 presidential election, said the treatment should have been “a bigger part of this whole response throughout the country from the beginning.”

“You know, he said he was going to end COVID. He hasn’t done that,” DeSantis told Fox News host Jesse Watters. “At the end of the day, he is trying to find a way to distract from the failures of his presidency.”

Advertising

Neither the White House nor DeSantis’s office immediately returned requests for comment Thursday.

DeSantis’s comments come at a time when the governor is continuing to resist coronavirus restrictions as the state’s hospitals are overwhelmed during what one Florida doctor recently described as “a crisis of unprecedented proportions.” About 75 doctors and hospital employees in South Florida held a public event this week to urge people to get vaccinated, saying the strain placed on the state’s health-care system from the unvaccinated population has left them exhausted.

The governor also faces a growing revolt from school districts across the state on mask mandates. More than half of Florida’s students are now enrolled in public school districts with mask mandates despite threats of sanctions from DeSantis, who issued an executive order stating that only parents can decide whether their children wear masks. Ten of the state’s largest school districts have either approved mandates or require a medical exemption from a doctor to opt out of wearing a mask in school.

A Leon County judge is expected to deliver a ruling on a lawsuit challenging DeSantis’s order in the coming days. At an opening of a monoclonal antibodies clinic Wednesday in the Villages — the central Florida retirement community that strongly supports former president Donald Trump — DeSantis reiterated that there would be “consequences” for school districts that defied his order against mask mandates.

“Those school districts are violating state law and they are overriding parents’ judgment on this,” DeSantis said at a news conference. “If these entities are going to violate state law and take away parents’ rights, obviously the way it works, there are consequences for that and there will continue to be more.”

DeSantis vowed to expand the provision of antibodies through mobile clinics earlier this month. The governor has championed the monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals — the same treatment given to Trump, before it was available to the public, when he had the coronavirus — as “the most effective treatment that we’ve yet encountered for people who are actually infected with COVID-19.”

Advertising

The antibody treatment, a cocktail of the monoclonal antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab, is designed to prevent infected people from developing severe illness. Monoclonal antibodies, which can be taken in a single infusion or four injections, are free to patients and there have been almost no side effects.

While doctors have noted the treatment’s promise and effectiveness in clinical trials, others have stressed that taking the vaccine remains the most crucial defense to fight the spread of the virus. One physician recently noted that the antibody cocktail from Regeneron is “an extremely effective treatment for a limited number of people,” due to constraints on supply.

Roughly 52% of Florida’s population is fully vaccinated, and DeSantis has urged the public to get inoculated while also touting available treatments.

But Regeneron noted this month that it is reaching fewer than 30% of eligible patients, up from fewer than 5% about a month ago. More than 600,000 people have received the treatment since Regeneron and Eli Lilly received approval for separate versions in November, the White House COVID-19 Response Team reported this month. Lilly’s product was paused nationwide after it was found to be ineffective against some coronavirus variants.

Though the response team for the Biden administration has promoted the antibodies, the treatment has been mostly discussed when Anthony Fauci, the team’s infectious-disease specialist, offered a research update during news conferences or briefings.

The back-and-forth between the president and the governor began earlier this month when Biden ordered Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to take action against governors who have banned universal masking in public schools. The president did not name any specific governors, but suggested that DeSantis and other Republican governors should “get out of the way” and stop defying the administration’s guidance on the pandemic.

Advertising

In response, DeSantis blamed Biden’s handling of the situation at the southern border for the health crisis, saying he did not “want to hear a blip about COVID” from the president. According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, there is no evidence to support DeSantis’s claim

When asked at a news conference earlier this month about DeSantis’s rebuke, Biden responded, “Governor who? That’s my response.”

DeSantis reiterated on Fox News that he and other Republican governors were “absolutely going to stand in Biden’s way,” underscoring the likelihood that feuds over pandemic restrictions will remain at the forefront of the nation’s political discourse.

“He thinks he can attack Florida, sometimes he attacks Texas, because we’re Republican states,” he said. “But I can tell you, that dog’s not going to hunt down here.”

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

More