By every metric, Florida's COVID crisis has gone from bad to worse in recent days. The number of new cases is spiking to levels unseen since the start of the pandemic, as are hospitalizations. Fatalities, which was seen as a bright spot two weeks ago, are rising rapidly, too.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who's spent the last month defending his passivity and trying to blame others for his state's difficulties, has shifted his focus a bit over the last few days. The NBC affiliate in Palm Beach reported yesterday:
Florida is opening a monoclonal antibody treatment center at Camping World Stadium in Orlando to help COVID-19 patients recover, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Monday.... DeSantis said that, if used early when COVID-19 symptoms first surface, monoclonal antibody treatments like Regeneron have proven to "radically reduce" the chance of hospitalizations.
The Republican added that reducing hospital admissions must be "a top priority" for the state.
At face value, the governor's comments were entirely accurate. As Rachel has explained on the show many times, monoclonal antibody treatments have proven to be quite effective. For those who test positive for COVID-19, getting an infusion early can reduce the need for hospitalization by 80%. Making these treatments more widely available can and should be an important part of the U.S. response to the pandemic.
But the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" keeps coming to mind.
To a striking degree, DeSantis has become an enthusiastic cheerleader for infusion centers offering monoclonal antibody treatments. He appeared at one in Jacksonville late last week. He touted the treatments on Saturday. And then again on Sunday. The governor was in Orlando yesterday specifically to emphasize "the impact of using monoclonal antibody treatments."
This morning, DeSantis celebrated the opening of a new monoclonal antibody treatment site in Merritt Island.
Again, this isn't intended as criticism, per se. These infusion centers are going to help a lot of COVID patients, while simultaneously helping ease the burden on Florida's overburdened hospitals. The public has every reason to see monoclonal antibody treatments as a good and reliable thing.
But while it's true that monoclonal antibody treatments should be seen as a good and reliable thing for those who've contracted the virus, it's also true that stopping people from becoming infected in the first place would also save a lot of lives while simultaneously helping ease the burden on Florida's overburdened hospitals.
And there's where Florida's governor is falling short. I'm glad he's a fan of infusion centers, but it'd be even more encouraging if DeSantis were touting vaccines and masks with equal enthusiasm.
But he's not. In fact, the GOP governor is doing largely the opposite, pushing back fiercely against local communities that want to require masks, fighting against businesses that want to require vaccines, and even denouncing state "restrictions" of any kind.
And it's that incongruity that ultimately matters. DeSantis' emphasis is on treatment instead of prevention. To be sure, both elements matter as part of an effective response, but for the governor to focus on one and not the other -- as his state's crisis intensifies -- is a serious mistake.
Postscript: I won't pretend to know what hard-core vaccine critics are thinking, but if there are Floridians who refuse to wear masks, and refuse to get shots, how sure are we that they'll volunteer for monoclonal antibody treatments in a timely way?