Florida is in dire straits.
More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic, underscoring the perils of limiting public health measures as the Delta variant rips through the state.
This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now. The average for new known cases reached 23,314 a day on the weekend, 30 percent higher than the state’s previous peak in January, according to a New York Times database. Across the country, new deaths have climbed to more than 1,000 a day, on average.
And hospitalizations in Florida have almost tripled in the past month, according to federal data, stretching many hospitals to the breaking point. The surge prompted the mayor of Orlando to ask residents to conserve water to limit the strain on the city’s supply of liquid oxygen, which is needed both to purify drinking water and to treat Covid-19 patients.
Even as cases continue to surge, with more than 17,200 people hospitalized with the virus across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has held firm on banning vaccine and mask mandates. Several school districts have gone ahead with mask mandates anyway.
Overall, 52 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, but the figure is less than 30 percent in some of the state’s hardest-hit counties.
On Monday, dozens of doctors and hospital employees in Palm Beach County gathered for an early morning news conference to beseech the unvaccinated to get shots, emphasizing that the surge was overwhelming the health care system and destroying lives.
“We are exhausted,” said Dr. Rupesh Dharia, an internal medicine specialist. “Our patience and resources are running low.”
Ten school districts are now defying the governor’s ban on mask mandates, the most recent being Orange County, which includes Orlando.
Meanwhile, a ruling is expected this week in a case brought by parents against the governor’s ban. Yesterday the court heard testimony from folks supporting the ban, including a widely-discredited medical economics professor from Stanford and a parent who did her own research into masks.
The third day of Florida’s heated court battle over school mask mandates ended Wednesday with no ruling, leaving observers across the state waiting to see how to proceed next.
Leon County Judge John C. Cooper said he would take closing arguments Thursday morning and rule Friday morning on the case brought by parents from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Alachua counties.
“I need some time. I need what I call alone time, with my door closed and no interruptions to go through this,” Cooper said.
The mask mandate debate has sparked debate statewide and even grabbed the attention of the White House. The judge’s decision could change the way schools work to fend off the coronavirus moving forward and affect the relationship between the state and local school boards.
As of Wednesday, 10 of Florida’s 67 school districts had required staff and students to wear masks as the state continues to deal with a wave of COVID-19 cases. Other school districts, such as Pinellas County, have kept masks voluntary or allowed parents to opt out of the requirement.
Districts that do not reverse their mask mandates are expected to face financial penalties from the state. The districts in Broward and Alachua counties could be the first to face sanctions, as they continue to defy state order and Broward school officials seek legal avenues to challenge the state.
President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has vowed to step in and support local school officials who are threatened with financial penalties.
The state’s arguments
The last day of the trial included testimony from three parents who support the stance of DeSantis’ administration, along with Stanford University professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Florida K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva and Dr. Anthony Kriseman, a pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Bhattacharya, who studies health economics, was the state’s primary medical expert in the case.
The first to testify was Lee County parent Jennifer Gillen. She said her son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, will repeat fifth grade, in part because masks stressed him out so much that he had to do his schooling from home last year and he did not succeed.
Gillen said she has conducted her own research on masks and determined children are “much safer not wearing masks.” She argued it is “child abuse” to require children to wear one, and said parents should be allowed to make their children’s health decisions.
“That is my American right,” she said. “We’re actually having to fight some of our own people. That’s frightening.”
If I were the judge, I would ask Ms. Gillen to provide her research, assuming it was peer-reviewed and published by something more reputable than the local shoppers’ guide. Then I would ask her to show the court where in the state constitution the right to endanger her child’s classmates life and health is enshrined. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
If there is any justice in this at all, Gov. DeSantis would be held liable for the needless deaths and injuries to the people of the state he has sworn to protect. Instead, whatever the ruling in this case or any other, he is bound and determined not to let this minor annoyance disrupt his plans to follow in The Former Guy’s path of destruction.