TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Has Florida set itself up for failure? Some have concerns as the state faces a new COVID-19 variant, just two weeks after lawmakers cracked down on vaccine mandates with a special session.
House Minority Co-Leader Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, said Monday morning that Florida's four newest laws give the state "concrete shoes" when it comes to COVID mitigation and the looming omicron variant.
Though he said he didn't want to jump to conclusions, Jenne expected the new policy changes would have "a bit of a detrimental effect."
The laws, signed earlier this month, prevent schools, local governments and businesses from enacting strict vaccine rules for employees or students. Plus, they strip the surgeon general of authority to force shots during health emergencies.
"Unfortunately, we're at a place here where there is no turning back," said Jenne. "We are what we are in the state of Florida, and we're just going to have to see what happens."
The omicron variant is the latest the Centers for Disease Control have deemed "a variant of concern." It was discovered in South Africa and has shown up in countries as close to the U.S. as Canada.
Florida International Epidemiologist Mary Jo Trepka said researchers are working fast to figure out the morphed virus's impacts in the country. At the moment, she said, very little is certain.
"What we do know is that it has many mutations and some of them are very troubling," Trepka said. "But what we're missing right now is a lot of the epidemiologic information about how contagious it is, and also how severe illness is when people have it."
Even so, shots are still considered the best line of defense, Trepka said. She encouraged those eligible to get shots and those fully vaccinated to get boosters.
"It is very likely the vaccine is going to be very effective, because the vaccine, in general, is highly, highly effective," she said.
According to the latest CDC data, Florida ranks 19th for fully vaccinated residents at 61%. It sits at 35th when it comes to boosters at 18.4%.
The state currently has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. But it comes after a summer surge that overwhelmed hospitals and left the state's death toll above 61,000.
Gov. Ron DeSantis played down the new variant threat during a press event, later in the day. He said the state wouldn't give in to "media-driven hysteria."
The Republican leader also defended Florida's new laws. He considered them protection of individual choice and further pushed back against the Biden Administration's COVID mitigation efforts.
"In Florida, we will not let them lock you down," DeSantis said. "We will not let them take your jobs. We will not let them harm your businesses. We will not let them close your schools."
The president has said he has no plans to issue a lockdown, telling the press Monday morning they weren't necessary due to the availability of vaccines and other COVID treatments.