▶ Watch Video: School mask debate rages in Florida as COVID cases surge

Florida is launching a rapid response unit to administer monoclonal antibody therapies to residents fighting COVID-19, and developing “strike teams” to deliver the treatment directly to long-term care facilities, as Florida struggles with record-high hospitalizations. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state’s efforts to increase monoclonal antibody therapies on Thursday. The first rapid response unit is opening in Jacksonville, and the state is considering additional locations throughout the state. Federal health officials said Thursday they deployed five times as many ventilators to Florida in July as they did in June, as the Delta variant tears through communities, especially threatening the unvaccinated.

“I am proud to announce the opening of this rapid response unit to offer lifesaving monoclonal antibody therapies for Floridians,” DeSantis said in a statement Thursday. “We also look forward to setting up a long-term site at the Jacksonville Public Library and additional long-term sites across the state. These treatments have been proven successful, with clinical trials resulting in a 70% reduction in hospitalization and death for COVID patients.”

It’s not clear when the strike teams under development will be deployed to Florida’s long-term care facilities. The antibody treatment is approved for anyone 12 years and older. 

With roughly 60% of Florida adults fully vaccinated, Florida is not among the states with the lowest vaccination rates. But many younger adults have not gotten the shots, and children under 12 are not yet eligible. Florida averaged 13,390 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 over the last seven days, according to Centers for Disease Control data. 

Florida, like many states in the country, is struggling with high levels of hospitalizations. 

CDC data.

The Delta variant has ravaged the state, crowing many hospitals. In Brevard County officials are urging residents to use 911 sparingly as COVID-19 cases overflow local hospitals and ambulance services. 

DeSantis has prohibited school districts from imposing mask mandates, and Florida law prohibits even independent businesses from imposing vaccine requirements. A school board in Broward County, Florida, voted earlier this week to impose a mask mandate anyway.