TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at the Hillsborough County Department of Health to talk about efforts to fight COVID-19 using Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatments. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Pinellas DOH Director Dr. Ulyee Choe.
At the news conference, DeSantis touted Regeneron’s use against the delta variant of COVID-19, and repeated previous talking points about the goal of spreading awareness for the treatment, and using early treatment to save patients from severe COVID complications and symptoms.
Focusing on the program’s efforts, the governor said the treatments were performed more than 300 per day at some of the 21 locations across Florida providing the antibodies. He said that it was contributing to a decrease in COVID hospitalizations, which have been a source of concern for hospital staff and politicians across the state.
“Fortunately we’re seeing hospital admissions for COVID decline from what they were,” DeSantis said.
Talking about the treatment for Florida residents, the governor reiterated that the treatments were free to residents, having already been paid for by the federal government.
While the clinics are providing Regeneron treatments, DeSantis also mentioned that it was already available at some Florida hospitals, such as Tampa General Hospital. Referral for the infusions is not necessary at the state clinics, DeSantis said. Still, he reminded potential patients to discuss it with their doctors before seeking out the infusions.
“We’ve been doing this, people have had good results,” DeSantis said. “They’ve been talking, more people ask about it, and then it kind of builds, where more people seek it. Which is great.”
The governor then brought forward some of what he called success stories for the treatment, including Lt. Gov. Nuñez, who spoke on behalf of her family.
Nuñez’s mother and aunt, both in their 80s and both fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19.
Nuñez said her aunt, who she said has significant health issues, tested positive first.
“The doctor told me do not wait,” Nuñez said. “Make sure she gets this treatment right away.” Shortly after, Nuñez said her mother also tested positive and both women were given the antibody treatment. Nuñez said she witnessed firsthand how effective it was at staving off “significant symptoms” and hospitalization.
Nuñez also urged Floridians to seek vaccination and utilize the antibody treatment early to help save lives.
“This is indeed a game changer,” Nuñez said.
After Nuñez finished speaking, Pinellas County DOH Director Dr. Ulyee Choe thanked the governor and state leaders for their efforts and support in pushing for more vaccinations and the monoclonal antibody therapy, before addressing breakthrough cases of COVID-19.
“We encourage you to protect yourself and your family,” Choe said. “With the monoclonal antibody therapy, it’s certainly an important tool in the toolbox. As the governor mentioned, it has been shown to decrease hospitalization risk by 70-75%. In addition, it has also shown to decrease the severity of illness as well as the duration.”
Choe said that local hospitals have been asking for the treatment option, and that it would assist with decreasing emergency room patient volumes, before thanking the governor again for making the treatment more widely available.
After Choe spoke, former COVID patients, and family members of others, who received the antibody treatment talked about their experience with the Regeneron treatment.
DeSantis took the podium again after the families spoke, and discussed prevention and protection from COVID-19, which he said was turning into an endemic virus, or one that doesn’t ever fully go away.
“The fact is, if you look at kind of how COVID, with how the different iterations, you know it’s going to be something that’s going to be an endemic respiratory virus,” DeSantis said. “That means it doesn’t just end. You know we’d kind of hoped that with vaccines that it would potentially create a herd immunity, but you see places, you know all in Florida that have high, Israel, all these other places, you’re still seeing infections. The question is, what can you do to protect yourself knowing that this is something you could come in contact with at some point in the future?”
DeSantis said 70% of the COVID mortality rate was among the unvaccinated but said that if you put it in perspective, it doesn’t tell the whole story. He said the majority of people at high risk for COVID-19 are “overwhelmingly” vaccinated.
“If you do become infected regardless of your vaccination status, because as we’ve seen we’ve got vulnerable people who are testing positive,. who are developing symptomatic illness,” DeSantis said. “Regardless of that, what can you do? Do this early, it makes a huge difference.”
The governor said that 30,000 treatments of Regeneron have been administered in Florida, and encouraged people to seek the treatment. While he said it wasn’t a mandate, he wanted to make sure 100% of the people in the state knew it was available.
“We just want to make sure that people are availing themselves of everything that’s out there,” DeSantis said. The governor took a few questions at the end of the event.
Addressing a question on resistance to the treatment from the medical industry, DeSantis quipped that even Dr. Anthony Fauci had admitted the treatment was effective. He said he wasn’t sure why there was resistance to talk about treatments, but said people needed to know the truth so they could make their own decisions.
“I think there’s always kind of been, a part of this, where they would tell the public what they thought would lead to the behavior that they wanted to see,” DeSantis said. “I think there was some concern that if you told people there was treatment that could be effective that that would cause them not to seek vaccination. Of course, that’s not the message, this is not in lieu of, this is in addition to, but I do think that for whatever reason, there has been some resistance.”
The governor said he thought that if the monoclonal antibodies had been promoted earlier, more lives could have been saved.
Questions shifted to recently passed law HB 1, named Combating Public Disorder and colloquially referred to as the anti-rioting bill, which is currently facing a battle in court.
“It did two basic things,” DeSantis said. “One is it said to the people of Florida that if a local government tries to defund law enforcement, we at the state are going to make sure to block that, we are not going to let the police be defunded in Florida. If you look where that’s happened throughout this country, it’s been disastrous with the crime that is totally spiking out of control. So you’ve gotta stand by law enforcement. The other component that was really significant is, really serious penalties for folks who are engaged in violent assemblies and any type of mob violence.”
The governor compared the law’s effects to what he called the mob violence in Portland, saying that they only give you a slap on the wrist and put you back on the street, but in Florida “you’re going to see the inside of a jail cell.”
Switching gears to talk about mask mandates and the delta variant, DeSantis mentioned a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which found no evidence of a worse impact on kids by delta than previous versions of COVID-19, mentioning the stable positivity rate of COVID-19 among kids coming in at about 1.3% and warning about respiratory synctial virus (RSV).
“The data is pretty clear. We have not seen any difference in terms of the proportion, in terms of hospitalizations or mortality,” DeSantis said. “I think that is something that’s important to point out.”
Still, while the proportion of pediatric cases remains stable, the number of cases overall have increased. The most recent state report on COVID-19 numbers, a weekly tally, showed 151,760 new cases from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26.
Additionally, the Department of Health’s report showed that COVID-19 cases among Florida’s children were increasing, and that it was the only age group where the positivity rate had gone up, rising 30% compared to the previous week’s report.