A trio of Florida physicians speaking for the Committee to Protect Medicare accused President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of pursuing a herd immunity strategy and denounced it Wednesday as irresponsible, frustrating, and heartbreaking.
“It’s beyond frustrating … to let our state be taken over by a preventable virus,” Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist and Florida state lead for the Committee to Protect Medicare, told reporters during a Zoom press briefing Thursday.
Though Trump and DeSantis both have said they are not pursuing herd immunity, some of Trump’s advisers have suggested it as a route. And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows‘ comment Sunday that the pandemic will not be controlled lent credence.
The physicians speaking to reporters Wednesday included Ashby, Jacksonville internist Dr. Jennifer Cowart, and Gainesville infectious disease specialist Dr. Frederick Southwick, author of the textbook “Infectious Disease: A Clinical Short Course.”
They contended that Trump’s and DeSantis’ actions, opening everything from schools to sports stadiums and signaling that normalcy has returned even as the virus resurges, amounts to surrender to herd immunity, whether they want to say so or not.
In the past seven days, through Wednesday, Florida has averaged about 3,935 new COVID-19 cases reported each day. That’s up by nearly 1,000 cases a day, compared with the previous week’s average of 2,940. As Southwick pointed out, hospitalization trends tend to lag about two weeks behind case trends. And death trends tend to lag another week or two behind hospitalization trends.
Herd immunity will require a dramatic rise in cases that will overwhelm hospitals and lead to many thousands of needless deaths in Florida, they each said.
“It is wrong-headed, and 100% of epidemiologists and infectious disease experts strongly, I mean strongly, oppose this approach,” Southwick said.
Replied DeSantis’ spokesman Fred Piccolo: “This is just sad. They told us the initial wave would inundate and overwhelm hospitals. Governor DeSantis’ quick action to protect the elderly made that prediction untrue. 75+ days of positivity rates bellow 10%. Schools open and thriving an even the NY Times and Washington Post agree. No massive spike going into phase III. Sports not seeing massive outbreaks. They can produce three doctors, two of which aren’t epidemiologists. We can produce thousands of doctors who disagree with these ridiculous assessments. The data is clear and the Governor follows the data. Mortality rate is very low, positivity rates are low, hospitalizations are low, COVID-like illness ER visits are low, testing is in the millions, assisted living facilities are open and operating safely, and the people can earn a living and feed their families. If all of that is wrong, then I’d hate to see their solution.”
The trio urged DeSantis to slow down or reverse some of his reopening measures and to immediately start making mask-wearing and other precautions a higher priority, especially in his own behavior. They urged Trump to stop holding “super-spreader” events.
“My colleagues across the state of Florida are joining today because we’re fed up with Donald Trump’s and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as our state sees what could be another major surge,” Ashby said. “It’s deja vu all over again. It feels like we’re right back to where we were at the start of the summer. As a physician, it is not a good feeling.”
“By following Trump’s lead and refusing to follow the science, Gov. DeSantis is once again making the pandemic worse in our already hard-hit state,” Cowart said. “You don’t have to be a physician to think that with nearly 17,000 of our fellow Floridians that have died, our Governor should be taking every step possible to save more lives and livelihoods. Yet he’s reopened business without proper safety precautions, tied the hands of local governments, we have not enacted a state mask mandate, and, like Trump, has leaned into the dangerous, misunderstood concept of herd immunity as his excuse for having a statewide plan.”