Gov. DeSantis isn’t necessarily buying Biden’s approach to COVID-19 but adds: ‘Whatever works, I’m in favor of’

Gov. Ron DeSantis at vaccine-related news conference in Key Largo, Jan. 22, 2021. Credit. Screenshot, Governor's Facebook page.

Having spent much of the past year defending Donald Trump’s chaotic response to the new coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled skepticism on Friday about the new plan proposed by President Joe Biden, the guy who defeated Trump, to make that response more effective.

But the Republican governor also declared: “I’m in favor of whatever could speed it up.”

Having taken office on Wednesday, replacing DeSantis’ most potent political patron two years into the governor’s term, Biden’s first acts included assertion of a national strategy against COVID-19, including steps that Trump had shunned and ridiculed.

Requiring face masks at federal facilities and in interstate transport, for example, and encouraging everyone to wear them in public for the next 100 says.

Invoking the Defense Production Act to bolster supplies for testing and vaccines makes sense. That law allows a president to enlist private companies to produce supplies in a national emergency.

Most of all, telling the truth about the coronavirus threat.

During a news conference in Key Largo, DeSantis questioned whether the Defense Production Act would make any immediate difference.

“I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that, because I think that these companies are already producing a lot,” DeSantis said.

“I mean, they have these orders they need to fulfill. I think the Defense Production Act would probably be more effective if you have companies in emergency situations that aren’t producing for the national need and then you could redirect it,” the governor said.

“But if it works — and I don’t think that’s necessarily, just looking at the facts on the ground, likely to be a silver bullet — whatever works, I’m in favor of. If they’re going to look at all different ways that they’re able to juice this, I think that’s something we’re going to want to see and it’s something that I look forward to.”

DeSantis similarly was skeptical of Biden’s plans to establish U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency clinics to administer vaccine in the states. He argued that Florida already boasts a robust distribution network including hospitals, state-run sites, county public health centers, churches, and Publix pharmacies.

The state is especially targeting people aged 65 and above, having first prioritized front-line health care workers and nursing homes.

Although glitches in the vaccine distribution system Trump oversaw are becoming apparent, Florida thus far has vaccinated more than 1.2-million people, including more than 800,000 residents 65 and older, according to a report published Friday by the Florida Department of Health. About 4.5-million people in that age group live in Florida.

The department also reported about 1.6 million COVID infections and 25,011 deaths of residents in Florida.

Of the proposed FEMA clinics, DeSantis said: “First of all, that’ll take like 30 days,” adding: “It’s not necessary in Florida. I would use all that energy and I would put that toward more supply of the vaccine.”

If that sounds dismissive, earlier in the week the governor had sounded outright hostile to Biden’s plans.

“I think they’re trying to change radically in the middle of this. I think it could be potentially problematic,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “And I can tell you, I saw some of the stuff that Biden is putting out, and he’s going to create these FEMA camps and whatever, I tell you, that’s not necessary in Florida. All we need is more vaccine.”

That phrase — “FEMA camps” — recalled an Obama-era conspiracy theory among conservatives that the government planned to establish concentration camps to house political dissenters like themselves.

That image may parallel the conspiracy theory about a stolen election, spread by Trump, that inspired thousands of his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, leading to the deaths of at least five people, including a Capitol Police officer. But it’s not remotely what Biden proposes.

The new president actually wants to establish 100 federally supported vaccine centers by the end of February, complete with staff to run them. He wants to fill supply shortages and overall improve the pandemic response across racial and geographic lines.

FEMA would reimburse states some of their costs for reopening schools and plant liaisons in each state to improve communication, as the agency does when natural disasters strike.

The governor also expressed skepticism about a new CDC recommendation, posted Thursday, that follow-up doses may be administered up to six weeks following initial doses if supplies aren’t available for the preferred three weeks for Pfizer and one month for Moderna.

Meanwhile the United Kingdom is experimenting with a single-dose regimen.

DeSantis indicated he’d prefer to stick to the original plan and administer both doses on schedule.

“If CDC has some firm guidance, and I speak to medical people here and the doctors think it makes sense, and someone else has maybe tried it and it works, then we can look at it,” he said.

The state is not warehousing vaccine, the governor emphasized. The feds send doses directly to providers selected by state officials. The state does retain a small cache of supply to “troubleshoot” if any providers find themselves short “but there’s not massive amounts,” he said.

The government sent 266,000 first doses last week and will send the same amount next week, DeSantis said — and no more than that. It holds back follow-up doses in equal amounts until it’s time to administer them.

“We’re going at a pace faster than that” in terms of the vaccination rate, he added.

“You look at a place like Hard Rock Stadium [in Miami-Dade], they do 1,000 [vaccinations] a day. We could do 2,000 or 3,000 a day if we had more vaccine.”

The state is also directing vaccine to hospitals, state-run sites, county public health centers, churches, and Publix pharmacies, especially targeting people aged 65 and above, having first prioritized front-line health care workers and nursing homes.

“The question that the new administration has raised is, should they stop holding the second dose? Now, if you do that, you’d probably have some more for first doses but you got to plan for the second dose,” DeSantis said.

“You may be able to do that and not miss a beat on second doses if the production schedule ramps up. But I will say this: We did believe that this week we would see a plus-up,” meaning a bump in supply. “We haven’t seen the plus-up yet, so we’re going to have to see what that looks like.”

Additionally, he said, the feds plan to send sufficient vaccine to expand distribution through additional pharmacy chains.

“We don’t know how many it’s going to be, but it’s going to be a weekly shipment. So, we’ve identified Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie, and Publix to be able to receive those. It could be tens of thousands, maybe even a little bit more than that, maybe a little less. We’ll see what happens,” DeSantis said.

“But the good news is, whatever they’re doing, even if it’s just 5,000 a week, that is not part of Florida’s schedule allotment — that’s in addition to what we have.”

He insisted: “Florida is committed to the two-dose regime for Pfizer and Moderna. That is what the clinical trials said was 95 percent [effective]. I do believe one dose does help. I think it’s probably 40-50 percent, which is better than what we had before,” he said.

“And there are some places like Britain that’s talked about, ‘Let’s just give everyone one dose.’ I think that that would be helpful, but I think the two doses is better for seniors. So that’s what we’re doing.”