Gov. Ron DeSantis wouldn’t commit to holding more events promoting COVID-19 vaccinations and blamed public distrust of “experts” as the main reason why more people haven’t gotten inoculated in Florida.

His comments came as the virus is booming again in the state and across much of the United States.

Asked what he would do to raise Florida’s fully vaccinated population beyond the current 54% of people 12 and older, DeSantis didn’t answer the question, saying instead it was important not to be overly critical of people who don’t want to get the shot.

“I do not agree with … some of these quote-unquote ‘experts’ who lambaste people and criticize them or say they’re stupid or something,” DeSantis said. “That’s not the way to reach folks. … I’m sorry, there’s been a lot of misinformation and a lot of bad advice that’s been given by some of these experts over the last year, these people saw that they remember all this stuff.’’

DeSantis’ comments in Poinciana, where he signed a bill creating a wildlife corridor for protected species, came after his campaign made national headlines for selling beer coozies labeled “Don’t Fauci my Florida” and “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

The merchandise is part of DeSantis’ campaign against coronavirus restrictions since the monthlong lockdown in May 2020 and a ban on alcohol in bars ended last summer. It’s a message that has played well among activists at events such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he twice won their 2024 presidential straw poll without former President Trump on the ballot.

But now, coronavirus cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are all up in Florida and nationwide. Cases in Florida were up 200% over the last two weeks, and the White House said Friday that the state was the source of more than a fifth of the 184,145 new cases of the virus nationwide over the previous week, with 45,603 cases. Another 59 new deaths were also reported in Florida.

The overwhelming majority of new cases nationwide, and almost all deaths, came among those who had not been vaccinated against the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 40% of new cases were in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada, all states with low vaccination percentages compared with the rest of the country.

“The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” President Biden said Friday.

DeSantis had routinely held events at vaccination sites beginning in December, when the first Floridian received the shots, and up until the age group for the vaccine was opened up to those 18 years of age and older in April.

Some Republican officials nationwide are attacking vaccination strategies, including U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C, and others comparing people going door-to-door to promote the shots to Nazis.

DeSantis also downplayed the rise in infections among Floridians and nationwide, focusing on those who are infected after getting vaccinated.

“If you are vaccinated, though, the number of people that end up hospitalized after is almost zero,” DeSantis said. “It’s incredibly, incredibly low. So I think there’s some misinformation out there where someone will say, ‘Oh, these people were vaccinated, then they tested positive.’ Understand a positive test is not a clinical diagnosis of illness. And so if you’re vaccinated, and you test positive, but you don’t get sick, well, the name of the game is to keep people out of the hospital.”

Across Florida, 3,652 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, more than double the number hospitalized with COVID-19 only a month ago. Throughout AdventHealth’s Central Florida division, 430 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday morning.

Overall, he said, “what we’ve seen in the last really couple months … I told people months ago, we would see higher prevalence because it’s a seasonal virus. And this is the seasonal pattern that it follows in the Sun Belt states, particularly in Florida.”

DeSantis also defended his trip to Texas on Saturday in the midst of the spike in cases.

He toured a portion of the Mexican border, where the state had recently sent 50 law enforcement officers.

“Our guys are doing a good job,” he said. “It’s an important mission. I think they’ve had a positive impact.”

©2021 Orlando Sentinel. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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