The news came as DeSantis was taking questions after unveiling a $270 million spend on 76 projects—across the peninsular state—to help prevent future flooding from “tropical weather” and “sea-level rise.”
When a reporter asked about the discovery of Omicron in Florida, DeSantis said there would be more information later.
But, he added emphatically, confirmed cases would not prompt him to lock down the state, or take other restrictive measures, such as requiring school children to wear masks again.
“In Florida, we won’t let them lock you down,” he said, as the audience began to clap and cheer.
“We won’t let them restrict you. We’re not going to let them impose mandates. We’re not going to let them close the schools. We are going to protect your freedom to make your decisions.”
The governor said if people want to isolate, “that is absolutely their decision in a free society.”
Florida has been open since September 2020. Cases surged over the summer. But since November, Florida has had one the lowest case rates of COVID-19 in the nation.
One case of the new Omicron variant was identified yesterday by a Veterans Affairs healthcare facility in Tampa, Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, confirmed later.
Another case, Redfern said, had been discovered in St. Lucie County.
The results had been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier that day.
Redfern didn’t know the condition of the two patients infected by Omicron, and couldn’t give more information.
Since the pandemic’s beginning, Florida’s Department of Health has conducted genomic sequencing of random virus samples, and that surveillance allows agency scientists to detect whether variants are emerging, Redfern said.
When the St. Lucie County case was discovered, state workers quickly conducted “contact tracing to identify possible exposures and advise on necessary isolation and quarantine protocols,” he said.
But the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. is still the Delta variant, he said, not Omicron.
“And we know monoclonal antibodies work against Delta,” he added. “As things change, we will adjust.”
In response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Florida over the summer, DeSantis set up units around the state where residents could receive monoclonal antibodies treatments for free and without a referral from a doctor.
It’s not clear if monoclonal antibodies treatments will work against Omicron—that’s currently being tested by the manufacturers that make the drug, Redfern said.
As of Dec 2, 69 percent of eligible Floridians had gotten vaccinated for COVID-19.