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Fernando Olvera adjusts a ventilator on a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 2, 2020 in Houston. (Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty Images)

Fernando Olvera adjusts a ventilator on a patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 2, 2020 in Houston. (Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty Images)

As DeSantis Bans Mask Mandates, Florida Asks Feds for Help With Covid Surge

The state health department's request for 300 ventilators came as the Republican governor continued to fight to prevent school districts from requiring masks.

Kenny Stancil

With a lagging vaccination rate and the highly contagious Delta variant combining to produce a spike in Covid-19 infections, Florida's Department of Health and Human Services recently requested hundreds of ventilators from the federal government—and the Biden administration reportedly approved a shipment earlier this week.

When asked on Tuesday about the state health department's request, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted that he was unaware of it.

"I have not heard about that, so I have to check to see if that's true or not," he said. "I would honestly doubt that that's true, but I'll look. We have a lot of stuff that we stockpiled over the last year and a half through the department of emergency management. I have not had any requests across my desk. I haven't been notified of that."

ABC News affiliate Local 10, which obtained a planning document from the state health department, reported that officials asked the federal government on Friday to send 300 ventilators "to replace expended state stores," and they expected the equipment to be delivered on Monday.

The Hill reported Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has approved a shipment of "some 200 ventilators and 100 smaller breathing devices from the strategic national stockpile," although it remains unclear when the machines will arrive and how they will be distributed.

Florida's request, which DeSantis claims to have no knowledge of, came amid a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, particularly among the unvaccinated, that is straining the state's medical resources.

Dr. Joshua Lenchus, chief medical officer at Broward Health, told Local 10 that "we are close to 90% in terms of our capacity."

"The nurses, the physicians, they have passed burnout a long time ago," said Lenchus. "This is sheer exhaustion."

Of the 336 Covid patients at Broward Health hospitals, 96% are unvaccinated, according to Local 10. The news outlet added that "there's also been an explosion of pediatric patients."

The health department's request for ventilators also came as DeSantis continued to fight to prevent school districts from requiring masks during the fast-approaching academic year.

As Common Dreams reported last week, several school districts in Florida plan to defy DeSantis' order blocking mask mandates.

The right-wing governor's order prohibiting mask mandates—which came just days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal masking in K-12 schools for students, teachers, staff, and visitors regardless of vaccination status—threatens to withhold state funding from "noncompliant school boards."

And in a move that public education proponents say is part of the right's longstanding privatization push, Florida's Board of Education has announced that parents who think a district's mask-wearing requirements constitute child "harassment" will be given vouchers to cover the costs of private school tuition.

DeSantis is far from alone in attempting to preemptively ban mask mandates and other public health precautions. Citing an analysis (pdf) from the Network for Public Health Law, the Washington Post reported late last month that Republican lawmakers in "at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering measures to limit the legal authority of public health agencies."

Experts have warned that this deregulatory blitz, backed by ALEC and other conservative think tanks, is likely to lead to "preventable tragedies" amid the ongoing pandemic as well as during future infectious disease outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Florida is not the only Republican-led state now requesting backup. In Texas, where ICU capacity has been exhausted in more than 50 hospitals, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has asked doctors to postpone elective medical procedures and instructed the state health department to identify personnel from other states who can provide assistance as the rapidly spreading Delta variant wreaks havoc.

As Vanity Fair's Bess Levin wrote Tuesday, deteriorating conditions are "not yet bad enough for him to reverse his idiotic stance on masking and other public health measures, or rethink the order he signed making it illegal for other officials to enforce them."

"The hospitals don't have enough ICU beds, they're pitching tents, and shipping people out of state, but ask people to wear masks?" Levin added sardonically. "What are you, nuts?"

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