Fla. officials face new questions as COVID deaths reach record high


Americans have seen plenty of press conferences featuring medical professionals throughout the pandemic, but it was nevertheless striking to see several dozen doctors assemble in a hospital parking lot this morning, hoping to send a message to their local community. The Palm Beach Post reported:

More than 70 physicians met Monday morning to bring a clear message to Palm Beach County residents: You should get vaccinated. Emergency-room doctors joined neurologists, infectious-disease experts, plastic surgeons and dozens of others to put their faces in front of the community where people would recognize them and, they hope, heed their warning. Multiple doctors said they are exhausted. They've treated COVID-19 patients for nearly a year and a half, and in Florida, doctors say things are getting worse at a faster rate than any other point in the pandemic.

Neurologist Robin Kass told the newspaper, "It's the worst it's ever been right now. And I just think that nobody realizes that."

The statewide data bolsters the point. The Palm Beach Post also reported over the weekend that COVID deaths in the Sunshine State have reached their highest point ever, and the Mayo Clinic's Vincent Rajkumar noted that Florida is currently the only state where daily fatalities in the current wave have exceeded the previous waves.

Remember, it was just a few weeks ago when state officials were relieved to see COVID deaths remain low. That, unfortunately, didn't last.

In case this weren't quite enough, the Tampa Bay Times reported that one out of every four COVID-19 infections in the state last week affected someone 19 or younger. The article added, "Younger Floridians are also testing positive at a higher rate than other age groups: Children 12 and under have a positivity rate of 23 percent and ages 12-19 have a positivity rate of 25 percent."

Common sense might suggest that statistics like these would lead to mask requirements in Florida schools, but at least for now, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) -- who suggested last week that mask protections have "not proven to be effective," reality notwithstanding -- isn't budging.

Local school officials, however, are increasingly prioritizing public health over the Republican governor's political agenda. On Friday night, Sarasota County's school board voted to create a mask requirement, becoming the sixth community in Florida to defy DeSantis' order.

What was especially notable about this decision, however, was the local political climate: in the first five instances, officials disobeyed the governor in Democratic strongholds. Sarasota County, however, backed Donald Trump by a double-digit margin last fall.

By all appearances, the DeSantis administration still intends to punish communities that try to curtail the spread of the virus through mask protections. The Biden administration, meanwhile, has reached out to local officials in the state, suggesting there may be federal reimbursement funds available. Watch this space.