MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down Tuesday in defending his actions and his ban of mask mandates just as the state once again broke its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations.
During an event at Shark Valley in the Everglades, DeSantis gave a reporter a terse response when he was asked about seven children at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital with COVID, two in the ICU. The question was could masks have helped?
"You're blaming the kids saying they weren't wearing masks so they're in the ICU. With all due respect, I find that deplorable to blame a victim who ends up being hospitalized," said DeSantis.
He never did give his thoughts on whether he thought masks would have helped.
"This has been a really negative thing throughout this whole thing, with some of these, quote, experts, some of the media, somebody can contract a highly transmissible airborne virus and they're viewed as having done something wrong. That's just not the way you do it," he added.
This comes after DeSantis banned all school districts in the state from imposing mask mandates saying he wants to let parents to decide whether children will masks in schools. His Executive Order also empowers the state to deny funding to any districts that don't comply.
The governor also touted hospitalizations being lower than they were last summer, but acknowledged they've been going up, and he's watching emergency room visits.
"We follow that very closely. It went up sharply during most of July, towards the end of last month, it started to stabilize. We've basically been plateau, so we're looking to see that roll over, and when that rolls over, I think you're doing to see some of the other indicators roll over as well."
WATCH: DeSantis answers reporter questions on COVID
The Governor's news conference comes as Florida hits a new high for COVID patients in the hospital.
The US Department of Health and Human Services says there are more than 11,500 COVID patients in Florida hospitals right now, that's up from Sunday's high of 10,207.
Jackson Health System reported a COVID high of 485 patients in July of last year, compared to 244 now, up from 200 last week.
At Baptist Health, they had a COVID high last July of 831. Right now, there are 736, that's up 100% from 2 weeks ago.
Dr. Aharon Sareli is the Chief of Critical Care at Memorial Healthcare System. He's says this could be the biggest surge yet.
"We're definitely seeing a massive surge of COVID patients. This is the largest surge we've seen in Florida," Dr. Sareli said.
He said Memorial Healthcare System had a COVID high in July of 2020 of 673, now there are 525 COVID patients, up from 300 two weeks ago. And the patients are getting younger, some in their 20's.
"We're seeing some of those patients deteriorating and becoming critically ill and into our intensive care unit. Unfortunately. we're seeing some of those young patients dying in our ICU's," he said.
DeSantis insists the current spike in cases is seasonal as Floridians spend more time indoors escaping the summer heat and humidity.
With the much more contagious Delta variant now spreading exponentially, Florida hit 11,515 hospitalized patients Tuesday, breaking last year's record for the third straight day. Hospitalizations have increased 11 times over the 1,000 COVID patients hospitalized in mid-June. About 2,400 patients are now in intensive care.
DeSantis credited his response to COVID, which has focused on vaccinating seniors and nursing home residents, for the fact that fewer Floridians are dying now than last August. A year ago, Florida was averaging about 180 COVID deaths per day during an early August spike, but last week averaged about 55 per day.
"Even among a lot of positive tests, you are seeing much less mortality that you did year-over-year," he said. "Would I rather have 5,000 cases among 20-year-olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger."
He also spoke about the "media hysteria" of on the record hospitalizations which he thinks will cause people who might be suffering from a heart attack or stroke to avoid going to an emergency room for fear of being infected, as statistics show happened last year.
"People were having heart attacks at home because either they thought there was not enough room at the hospital or get COVID and die," he said.
Hospitals around the state report putting emergency room patients in beds in hallways and are documenting a noticeable drop in the age of patients. Some hospitals are again banning visitors or postponing elective surgeries.
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