Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday defended the state's refusal to release coronavirus hospitalization data as dozens of hospitals in the state reported they had run out of space in their intensive care units amid a dramatic surge in infections.
At least 56 Florida hospitals in 25 different counties have hit 100% ICU capacity, according to overall hospital data released by the state. Another 35 only have 10% or less capacity remaining. In all, the state has just 962 out of a total of 5,023 ICU beds available as infections continue to rise. One expert said contact tracing has become impossible, because here are so many infections now in South Florida.
The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released data on overall hospitalizations in the state, but not data related specifically to coronavirus hospitalizations as promised by DeSantis.
DeSantis, a Republican, defended the refusal to release the data as he was grilled by reporters during a Tuesday news conference.
"All the data that goes into this is all available," DeSantis claimed.
"I have the spreadsheet from that data, governor," a reporter shot back. "It is not available."
"Obviously, not everything is presented in this report but just an unbelievable amount of data is available," the governor insisted, refusing to respond to follow-up questions.
He claimed that the state had already released plenty of data even as Florida remains an outlier in refusing to release data on coronavirus hospitalizations.
"They have so much raw data on there," he said. "It's really incredible . . . People do the charts, and the graphs and everything. That's all available for folks, and they are able to do it."
State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Democrat, alleged that the data was not released, because it may not match the data already reported by the state.
"It's these games with public records. They won't release it unless there's public pressure or a lawsuit filed. It's infuriating," he told The Miami Herald. "I suspect that one of the concerns is that we are going to see a divergence in numbers. That's what I think."
The data reported by Florida is unreliable and raises many questions, argued Rebekah Jones, who built Florida's coronavirus data dashboard before she alleges being fired for refusing to manipulate data. DeSantis has denied her accusations.
"Much of the [health department's] case data doesn't match the AHCA data, and the AHCA data . . . third parties are publishing doesn't match the data AHCA publishes themselves," Jones wrote in an op-ed at Florida Today. She added that the state has also refused to publish any data on testing and cases in prisons and jails, demographic data on who is being tested, local death data and any contact tracing data.
DeSantis bizarrely claimed on Monday that the outbreak in the state had "stabilized." One day later, the state reported a "record of 16.27% of all coronavirus tests coming back positive . . . more than double the national seven-day moving average," CNN reported.
"Certainly, all indications are things are not getting better. They are not getting steady," Palm Beach County Fire Chief Reginald Duren told county commissioners Tuesday. "They are getting worse."
"This is spreading quite rapidly throughout Florida, and this virus is going to be around for a very long time," Palm Beach County health chief Dr. Alina Alonso added.
Florida is far from alone in seeing its hospitals fill up after the U.S. on Tuesday hit a record 60,000 new confirmed cases.
Arizona hospitals reported that they had just 10% ICU capacity remaining, or roughly 167 beds. Hospitals in Texas, where the number of coronavirus hospitalizations has doubled over just the last two weeks, are approaching maximum capacity in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.
"I'm trying not to be an alarmist. I'm an emergency physician. We're prepped for this . . . But we can't just build beds overnight. We can't just hire staff overnight," Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency physician at the University of Arizona, told CNN. "Our numbers are only increasing. It's only going to get worse and that's the scary part."