Ron DeSantis

Florida Positivity Rates Rise as Herd Immunity Theory Decried

Before ordering local governments to stop enforcing mask requirements and relaxing other restrictions, Gov. Ron DeSantis was advised by academics whose ideas an FIU epidemiologist calls "utter and complete junk."

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The day before announcing he would relax restrictions on public gatherings and ban governments from penalizing people who refuse to wear masks, Gov. Ron DeSantis conferred with academics whose ideas about "herd immunity" are being decried as coronavirus rages across the United States.

Seven weeks after Florida lifted widespread restrictions, the virus is doing what reputable experts predicted it would -- resurge.

The state Tuesday added 7,459 cases, bringing the average daily increase for the last week to 6,450, largest since the week ending August 14.

Another 310 Floridians were reported hospitalized, the largest one-day increase in that metric since Sept. 9.

And the share of tests coming back positive is also increasing, reaching 10.4 percent of all test results received by the state on Monday. That pushes the seven-day rate to 9.5%, highest since August 22.

DeSantis' actions in September were informed by two of the original authors of the Great Barrington Declaration. It preaches "herd immunity" by allowing those "at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally" and "build up immunity to the virus through natural infection."

During a video conference with the governor, one of the academics conceded he was not an epidemiologist.

Dr. Aileen Marty, who is an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Florida International University, had some thoughts on the declaration pushed by DeSantis' advisers.

"It's utter and complete junk," she said, "non-scientific, super dangerous and no worthy scientist or physician would give it a second glance."

While DeSantis has rejected the "herd immunity" label as descriptive of his philosophy on the virus, his policy has been in line with those advisers, including an emphasis on protecting the vulnerable.

Seven weeks after the governor huddled with the academics and relaxed restrictions to business and gatherings, the positivity rate for all tests in the state has risen by 60%, now approaching 10% of all test results.

"As long as people decide to disregard the science," Marty said. "We’re going to continue to see rising cases and we’re going to find ourselves back in a very unpleasant situation."

It's happening across the plain states and upper Midwest, where governors who previously dismissed mask mandates and business restrictions are adopting them as hospitals are being overrun by COVID patients.

Thirty-five states have some sort of mask mandate, but not Florida, where DeSantis has forbidden local governments from penalizing those who refuse to wear masks.

The CDC advises everyone wear masks, to protect both themselves and those they come in contact with.

Marty said all leaders need to do is lead.

"All they have to do is convince their populations," she said, to "state that this is serious, ask them to follow the rules and let them know you cannot let a wild virus go loose."

A request Tuesday for comment from DeSantis for his thoughts on herd immunity, the declaration his advisers created and other coronavirus issues has gone unanswered.

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