COVID-19 deaths in Florida hit record as judge blocks mask mandate ban

There has been a record number of hospitalizations in the state compared to the rest of the country

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A judge ruled Friday that Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order banning mask mandates.

The governor’s order allowed for parents to decide if their child wears a mask at school. The Associated Press reports that Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said DeSantis’ order “is without legal authority.”

Florida school districts can now legally require students to wear masks.

Per the AP, the decision came after a three-day virtual hearing, and after 10 Florida school boards voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out. 

Florida is reportedly experiencing its worst surge in COVID cases, with the state leading in the number of hospitalizations and deaths per capita.

Last week, the Sunshine State was averaging nearly 25,000 new cases every day, with around 230 people dying daily, The New York Times reports. Additionally, within the past month, there has been a record number of hospitalizations compared to all states.

More people in Florida are being hospitalized and dying of COVID than in any other state since the height of the pandemic, per the report. The surge prompted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to call on residents to preserve the city’s liquid oxygen supply, which is used to treat COVID patients and to purify drinking water. 

“It’s critical that we continue to work together and each one of us do our part, as we have done throughout this pandemic, to mitigate the impacts the virus continues to have on our community,” Mayor Dyer said during the news conference. “While this is another new challenge, I know that as a community, working together, we can overcome it with the help of our residents and businesses.”

About 52% of Florida residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Times’ data. The counties with the least amount of vaccinated residents are said to be driving the increase in COVID cases.

Florida Gov. De Santis Discusses Coronavirus Vaccine Strategy
Florida governor Ron DeSantis (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“Insufficient vaccine coverage is contributing a lot,” Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist, said in an interview with Vox. The report notes that only “7 percent of the state’s ICU beds are currently available, according to the Florida Hospital Association, and more than half of the people currently in ICUs statewide have Covid-19,” the outlet writes.

“Several hospitals have had to procure and request more [ventilators], and oxygen deliveries continue to be a challenge,” Savannah Kelly, an FHA spokesperson, said in an email.

“There are still a large absolute number of unvaccinated people, relatively few people practicing social distancing or masking, by choice and also due to the absence of policies requiring them,” said Joshua Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Schools and universities going back into session, and lots of delta introductions in the state all happening at the same time.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned earlier this month that more “pain and suffering” is on the horizon as COVID-19 cases climb again and officials plead with unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also said he doesn’t foresee additional lockdowns in the U.S. because he believes enough people are vaccinated to avoid a recurrence of last winter. However, he said not enough are inoculated to “crush the outbreak” at this point.

Fauci’s warning comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course to recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges. With the switch, federal health officials have cited studies showing vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.

Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections can occur in vaccinated people, and though the vast majority of those cause mild or no symptoms, the research shows they can carry about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots.

“So we’re looking, not, I believe, to lockdown, but we’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up, which is the reason why we keep saying over and over again, the solution to this is get vaccinated and this would not be happening,” Fauci said on ABC’s This Week.

This story contains additional reporting from Associated Press.

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