WASHINGTON — Of new hospitalizations for coronavirus-related illness, nearly 40 percent are in Florida and Texas, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients revealed during a Thursday press briefing.
Cases have been rising in both states, and the attendant rise in hospitalizations is not a surprise. But it is concerning, because only people with serious and potentially life-threatening illness require hospitalization. Hospitals in central Florida are reporting 30 children hospitalized, six of them requiring intensive care. And in Houston, a public health official warned earlier this week that if the current surge continues, “there is no way my hospital is going to be able to handle this.”
Zients said that the situation in Florida was especially dire, with that state alone accounting for more cases than the 30 states with the lowest infection rates combined. Public health officials have called the new coronavirus surge, driven by the hypercontagious Delta variant, a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Texas and Florida both have vaccination rates (44.7 percent and 49.8 percent, respectively) that are far too low to halt community transmission of the virus. For that to occur, some 80 percent of a population would have to be vaccinated.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are both conservative Republicans with presidential ambitions. As such, they have little incentive to work with the Biden administration, as Trump loyalists would almost certainly repudiate them for doing so.
But the governors’ resistance to imposing new restrictions of any kind poses a significant public health risk. Neither has made vaccination a requirement for state employees, and they have resisted mask mandates imposed by local school districts. The White House has told both governors to “get out of the way” and allow for a proper response.
On Thursday, President Biden began what were to be prepared remarks on prescription drug pricing by thanking educators and local elected leaders who stand up to governors banning new precautions. It was a clear reference to DeSantis and Abbott, though the president named neither.
Others were not so circumspect. Matthew Dowd, the anti-Trump former Republican strategist who worked on the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign, compared Abbott and DeSantis to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned earlier this week after the release of a report detailing his sexual harassment of female employees.
“What Gov. Cuomo did was awful, and resigning was appropriate, but what governors Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida have done/are doing is far worse: harming democracy, worsening a public health crisis, stirring up hatred of others,” he wrote on Twitter, referencing their inaccurate assertion that migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico were driving the surge.
“Both should immediately resign.”
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