Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vice President Mike Pence tried Thursday to assure residents that Florida is responding effectively to the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of cases continues to soar and some hospitals are having to halt non-emergency inpatient surgeries.
While Pence contended that the state was in a “much better place” to respond to the surge in cases because of increased testing and availability of protective equipment, he acknowledged that work needed to be done to “flatten the curve.”
“No one wants to see these numbers where they are or no one wants to see them go up,” Pence said during an appearance in Tampa.
Pence traveled to the state with some of the nation’s top health officials. He met with DeSantis just hours after the state announced another 10,109 positive COVID-19 test results, bringing the total number of infections in Florida to 169,106. As of Thursday morning, 3,617 Floridians had died of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Also, an additional 10,450 residents had tested positive for the antibodies associated with the virus as of June 25. Hospital admissions are increasing, and about 17 percent of the state’s adult intensive-care unit beds were open and available for use Thursday.
DeSantis has downplayed the rising COVID-19 numbers and inpatient hospitalizations, but Pence announced that the state had asked the federal government for help with “medical personnel.”
“The governor and I talked today about personnel, and we’ll be considering a request from the state of Florida about medical personnel that we will be processing in very short order,” Pence said.
Additional details on what type of medical personnel DeSantis requested were not immediately available.
The request for additional personnel came a day after the state’s largest hospital system, Jackson Memorial in Miami, announced it would stop offering access to elective inpatient procedures next week because of rising COVID-19 cases and inpatient hospitalizations.
The cancellation also came after the state notified hospitals that the supply of remdesivir, an experimental drug being used to treat COVID-19 patients, was exhausted. Pence said 34,000 vials of remdesivir had arrived in Florida on Wednesday and will be shipped to hospitals.
Pence appeared at the University of South Florida in Tampa along with DeSantis and high-ranking Trump administration health officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx.
Florida now ranks fifth in the number of COVID-19 cases nationally. The spike in hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases came after DeSantis issued orders to reopen the economy. As the numbers have increased, the governor has resisted calls for mandatory masks wearing or to roll back the reopening. One step-back came last week when state officials ordered bars to stop serving alcohol on site.
Meanwhile, Texas also has seen a spike in cases, and its Republican governor, Greg Abbott, ordered the use of facial coverings on Thursday.
Because of the severity of COVID-19 with some patients, attention has focused on the availability of adult intensive-care unit beds. As of Thursday evening, the state had 1,044 available adult ICU beds, of about 17 percent of the total beds.
But availability varies significantly by county and by hospital.
U.S, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Thursday sent a letter to Pence and Azar asking that the Trump administration “take the necessary steps” to ensure that all Medicare-participating hospitals “provide timely reports on their bed capacity as well as COVID-19 patient populations.”
Rubio wants hospitals to report the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to their facilities, the percentage of those patients who are in intensive-care settings and the percentage of the COVID-19 patients who are admitted to hospitals for other reasons but then test positive for COVID-19.
“I believe this information is vital to decision-makers’ ability to pinpoint dangerous hot spots and determine where additional resources may be needed,” Rubio wrote in the letter.
The state does not collect information on the numbers of patients who are admitted for other reasons but then test positive for COVID-19.
The News Service of Florida recently reported that the DeSantis administration asked hospitals to not report ICU beds as occupied unless the patients using the beds required an intense level of care.