Ron DeSantis, Facing Record COVID Surge, Signals Lockdowns Off the Table With Bhattacharya Tweet

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signaled that new lockdowns are off the table with a tweet quoting Stanford Professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya as the state faces its biggest COVID-19 surge since the start of the pandemic, with a record number of new cases reported over the weekend.

The state has emerged as the new epicenter of the virus, accounting for about 20 percent of all new cases in the nation. As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread, DeSantis, a Republican who opposes instating mask mandates or further lockdowns, has surrounded himself with health experts, including Bhattacharya, who have pushed for a more targeted response to the outbreak.

"'We have protected the vulnerable by vaccinating the older population.' - Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University," DeSantis tweeted Sunday, a day after the state reported 21,683 new cases on Friday, its highest single-day total during the ongoing pandemic.

“We have protected the vulnerable by vaccinating the older population.” - Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) August 1, 2021

Bhattacharya co-wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, a document released in October that advocates for protecting those who are at highest risk and allowing others to develop immunity through natural infection—an approach that its authors called Focused Protection.

The anti-lockdown document has been widely panned by mainstream health experts and supporters of coronavirus mitigation measures around the world, with some calling it a "mass infection plan."

Among vaccinated people and younger adults, the chances of a serious or fatal COVID-19 infection is much lower, but it's not guaranteed. Additionally, some of the longer term effects of the virus, sometimes called "long COVID," are still not well understood.

Virus hospitalizations have risen among all age groups, with adults aged between 18 and 49 accounting for the largest increase, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC). A major reason for young people becoming the biggest group of newly hospitalized patients can be partly attributed to vaccine uptake, which is higher among those over 65.

DeSantis and Bhattacharya are closely aligned when it comes to efforts in addressing the virus. The two have made unified public appearances at events throughout the year to criticize mask mandates, school closures and other efforts to limit the virus' spread.

When DeSantis recently moved to ban school districts from requiring children to wear masks, his comments to the public echoed the Great Barrington Declaration. "The correlational evidence I think is mixed and there's literally no randomized evidence whatsoever for these masks in schools," Bhattacharya said Monday at a roundtable with the governor, an argument that DeSantis later parroted as the ban became widely criticized by doctors across the state.

The rationale was at odds with the CDC's recommendation of "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber blamed DeSantis Saturday for the state's latest spike in cases.

"The governor has made it as difficult as possible to make people safe," Gelber said. "He's like the pied piper leading everybody off a cliff right now by letting them know that they don't have to like the CDC, they don't have to wear masks, that they can do whatever they want when we're in the midst of an enormous pandemic."

Newsweek reached out to DeSantis' office for comment.

DeSantis coronavirus surge Stanford University anti-lockdown
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, arrive to visit a memorial to those missing outside the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building that partially collapsed on July 03, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty Images