Comparing the response to the Delta Variant to initial responses to COVID-19

Health care workers are fighting a different battle against the Delta Variant than they were last spring. Solutions were once as easy as “masking up,” but now things have been complicated a bit with the vaccines.

Dr. Vivek Murthy is the U.S. Surgeon General. “We have the most important tool to get through this pandemic, and that’s the vaccine. It’s saving lives, and it can save more lives if we can just accelerate our vaccination rate,” Murthy said.

Health leaders are begging unvaccinated people to get shots as hospitals began filling up again at an alarming rate. The number of patients in our health system is skyrocketing as Lee Health nears its pandemic record from July of 2020.

This surge has made it necessary for hospitals to put restrictions back into place for emergency room visitors.

These increasing cases numbers have put eyes back on Florida’s COVID-19 responses. “I’m deeply concerned with what’s happening in Florida,” Murthy said.

On Saturday, the state reported its highest single-day case total since the start of the pandemic, with more than 21,000 cases. On Sunday, Florida broke its COVID-19 hospitalization record with more than 10,000 being hospitalized.

Florida COVID records 2021
Credit: WINK News

“This is what COVID does; it throws curveballs our way,” said Dr. Murthy.

That curveball is the Delta Variant. It’s a different strain of COVID-19 than what spread across the country in 2020. The patients that are filling hospitals now are younger and healthier, but also the vast majority are unvaccinated.

In the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, the suggested difference between the surge now and last year is politics. “We clearly know that the mask mandates last year had virtually no impact.”

The article points to the governor’s recent focus on banning mask mandates and vaccine passports. In December and January, Governor DeSantis toured the state, promoting the vaccine, its availability, and its importance.

“They offer the prospect of saving thousands and thousands,” said DeSantis.

Political Scientist Aubrey Jewitt says he’s noticed the governor’s shift in focus regarding COVID-19. “When he does talk about it, he seems to either downplay it or suggest that the problem is there might be too much government involvement,” Jewitt said.

Nikki Fried did as well. She’s running for governor in 2022. “He’s doing just the opposite, not talking about it,” said Fried.

The governor’s office disagrees, strongly disagrees at that. In an email, the governor’s press secretary Cristina Pushaw says it “is completely unfair and baseless to claim that GGovernor DeSantis is no longer promoting vaccination. Reports to that effect are both inaccurate and irresponsible.”

Pushaw pointed to the governor’s most recent comments from Friday’s press conference in Cape Coral. “These vaccines, while for, particularly for at-risk people protect against, I think pretty good protection against serious illness,” said DeSantis.

Jonathan Martin is with Lee County’s Republican Party. “Ron DeSantis has consistently encouraged those who are at-risk populations in the state of Florida to get the COVID vaccine has been consistent with best practices and keeping everybody safe,” said Martin. “He’s giving Floridians information and letting Floridians make the best decisions for themselves.”

The Governor’s Press Secretary also emailed 29 transcribed quotes to WINK News where the governor publicly promoted vaccination. Nine of them in May, June and July.

WINK News also reached out to the Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Christ, but his campaign did not get back to us.

For Pushaw’s full statement, you can read it below:

“Governor DeSantis’ position is clear: Government mandates do not work to stop COVID-19. The empirical evidence from comparing outcomes from states with different policies supports his position on this. There is no correlation between lockdowns and lower COVID-19 deaths, but lockdowns have serious consequences for public health as well as the economy. Proponents of restrictive policies and mandates often fail to discuss the trade-offs involved.

With that being said, the Governor and Florida Department of Health have always encouraged Floridians to protect themselves and their communities. The best way to do that is to get vaccinated; the vaccines are safe and effective for most people and are freely available everywhere in Florida. Governor DeSantis has mentioned the vaccines positively almost 100 times in public remarks since November 2020.

We recognize that cases and hospitalizations have shifted to a younger demographic because we have successfully vaccinated seniors. Again, we must continue this stride to expand vaccination rates across eligible age groups. As stated by Governor DeSantis, “These vaccines are saving lives, and reducing the mortality of COVID-19.”

It is completely unfair and baseless to claim that Governor DeSantis is no longer promoting vaccination. Reports to that effect are both inaccurate and irresponsible. The Governor has consistently stated that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing serious illness in most people. I have copied some more of Gov. DeSantis’ public remarks on vaccines, below. Most recently he stated on Friday, July 30 at his press conference:

You know, for example, you, you have this situation that you saw it in Great Britain, and you saw it in Israel, you saw it in a place like Gibraltar where there’s 98% vaccination. You see these cases going up, same, same with the Sunbelt, Florida, Texas, all these other states. You’re seeing that. And I think they’re not putting that in context of the fact that, you know, these vaccines while for, particularly for at-risk people protect against, I think pretty good protection against serious illness. Clearly people are testing positive. I mean, it’s not preventing positive tests. And so you’re seeing that over and over again. At the end of the day, though, if you’re testing positive and you have a mild or an asymptomatic, that is, that’s not something that we should get spun up about, but I think it’s not presented in the right context.

We would greatly appreciate your help in spreading the message to your viewers and community that vaccines are safe and effective for most people, protect most people from severe COVID-19 outcomes like hospitalization, and are freely available throughout Florida: If anyone has questions about vaccines or what mitigation measures would be appropriate for them, they are encouraged to consult with their health care provider.”

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Drew Hill
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