FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP/WFLA) — The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida rose to an all-time high of 11,515 patients in one day, according to data the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Tuesday.
The data is used by the Florida Hospital Association to track admissions and staffing shortages. The figures also show 2,400 of those patients are in ICU beds.
The previous day, the data showed there were 10,389 COVID-hospitalizations in the state.
The new number breaks a previous record for current hospitalizations set more than a year ago before vaccines were available. Last year, Florida hit its previous peak on July 23, with 10,170 hospitalizations.
Hospitals around the state report having to put emergency room visitors in beds in hallways and others document a noticeable drop in the age of patients.
The addition of 1,126 more COVID patients in Florida hospitals was announced amid a power struggle between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and local officials over how to protect children and staff as the school year begins.
At a press conference in Miami Tuesday, DeSantis tried to squash concerns over the record spike in hospitalizations, calling it media fear mongering.
“Obviously media does hysteria. You try to fear monger,” DeSantis told reporters at the Shark Valley Visitor Center. “And when you talk about hospitalizations. Our hospitals are open for business. Like I said, Jackson, the COVID patients are half of what they were last year. Even in places that have more, COVID-19 patients represent a fraction of the overall hospital beds.”
The governor said he was concerned the “media hysteria” would prevent those in need from seeking care.
“I don’t want to see a repeat [of last year] because of some of the media hysteria, where people who have heart problems or stroke are not going in to get care,” DeSantis said. “There was a huge decline of people who would show up to the ED. Literally people were having heart attacks at home because they thought there weren’t either, not enough room at the hospital or they would get COVID and die as a result of that.”
Broward County’s school board voted last week to require facial coverings when in-person learning resumes this month, enforcing the latest recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the board reversed itself after DeSantis signed an executive order preventing mask mandates in schools, and empowering the state to deny funding to any districts that don’t comply.
Broward’s board had responded to the latest science on the virus, which suggests that while vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, they can still spread infection among those who haven’t had their shots. This revelation prompted the CDC to recommend “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
“Unfortunately, Dade and Broward County lead the nation in hospitalizations,” Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said Monday. “The numbers are doubling every 10 or 11 days. Geometric progression. This is horrifying.”
The Republican governor said he wants parents to decide whether their children should wear a mask to school. He also claimed the outbreak is seasonal, caused by people gathering indoors to avoid Florida’s heat and humidity.
A law DeSantis signed in May gives him power to invalidate local emergency public health measures, including mask mandates and limitations on business operations. It also bans any business or government entity from requiring proof of vaccination.
The Broward district now says it will encourage, but not require, students age 12 and older, as well as teachers and staff to get vaccinated. It will also encourage the use of facial coverings.
“Safety remains our highest priority,” the district’s statement said.