Florida strike teams to broaden access to monoclonal antibody treatments

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Hospitals in some areas of Florida are above 90% capacity with 15,358 patients hospitalized Thursday with COVID-19 symptoms, nearly 300 more than Wednesday, and 3,200 occupying half the Sunshine State’s intensive care unit beds.

In response, Florida is launching rapid-response units to expand the use of monoclonal antibodies with strike teams dispatched to hospitals and nursing homes to relieve pressure on taxed staffs and administer the treatments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will set up long-term locations to make the treatments more widely available, such as at libraries, noting state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees soon will issue an order to make sites available to people who meet criteria where they won’t need a doctor prescription.

“This is probably the best thing that we can do to reduce the number of people that require hospitalization,” DeSantis said Thursday.

Monoclonal antibodies, made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, are delivered intravenously or by injection. It concentrates lab-made antibodies that fight COVID-19 and are designed to help those most at risk, such as the elderly and those suffering with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, morbid obesity and sickle cell disease.

The treatment was used in then-President Donald Trump’s recovery from COVID-19 last year.

DeSantis said making monoclonal antibodies treatments more available is important but vaccines still are “most effective” in stemming the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s an either or,” the governor said. “We have people in society that are not vaccinated. We also have people who are vaccinated who are still testing positive. Either way, if you get in that situation, particularly in these high-risk categories, this should be your stop.”

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), orders for monoclonal antibodies are 12 times higher now than in July, noting it has shipped more than 15,000 doses to 162 Florida sites in the past month.

Between 400-600 doses were administered weekly in Florida through June, HHS said, with 3,300 treatments last week.

DeSantis also said Thursday the state soon may resume daily updates on the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 data dashboard.

Under DeSantis’ directive, the DOH has been posting only weekly updates every Friday since June.

The only way now to chart the pandemic’s day-to-day activity in Florida is via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention COVID Data Tracker or the Florida Department of Agriculture’s webpage, where Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried – a Democratic contender to challenge DeSantis for governor in 2022 – began posting CDC data daily in July.

DeSantis sald a return to daily reporting will illustrate what areas are being most affected by the surge, noting the DOH’s breakdown provides more detailed regional information than the CDC does.

“It is a huge state, and I think that these waves are not necessarily uniform,” DeSantis said. “With these daily cases, those are reported publicly every day to the CDC so people have access to that. But in terms of breaking it down by county, that may not be a bad idea going forward. I know we used to look at that a lot.”

The CDC incorrectly reported Florida’s case data for Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, DeSantis said earlier this week, spurring him Monday to say maybe it’s best if the state resumes directly reporting case numbers to the public.

“We’re trying to decide if it makes sense to at least put out something,” he said. “Stay tuned on that. We’ll see what happens.”

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