Virus treatment site opening in Brownwood

Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by Florida state Rep. Brett Hage far left, Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin, far right, and State Sen. Dennis Baxley, second from right, discuss Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatments in front of the new treatment site at Barnstorm Theater in Brownwood Paddock Square.

Local COVID-19 patients have a new option for treatment: Monoclonal antibody infusions are coming today to a state-sponsored site at the Barnstorm Theater at Brownwood Paddock Square. Early treatment is key to recovery, said Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking on Wednesday from the site that can serve more than 300 patients each day. “If you come down with COVID, just know early in that process, coming here is a great way to be able to resolve it,” DeSantis said. The governor has frequently praised The Villages’ response in protecting the nation’s largest retirement community. Just months into the pandemic, The Villages partnered with UF Health to host the nation’s first large-scale testing site. Today, Sumter County has the lowest number of new cases per 100,000 of any Florida county and the state’s fifth-highest vaccination rate at 71%.

DeSantis urged any non-vaccinated citizens to reconsider, noting that this group accounts for the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases.

“We were here in The Villages with vaccine distribution and set up a big drive-thru site when that was working really well,” he said. “But we still have issues where people are getting infected and are going to need treatment.”

In Florida overall, more people are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of COVID-19 now than at any time in the pandemic.

This week, 227 virus deaths were reported each day in Florida, a record for the state and by far the most in the nation. The average for new known cases reached 23,314 a day on the weekend, 30 percent higher than the state’s previous peak in January.

Hospitalizations in Florida have almost tripled in the past month.

UF Health’s two local hospitals were treating 165 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, near the highest level since the pandemic began.

Antibody infusions may help infected people avoid that serious step, DeSantis said.

“Once this progresses to the point where you really need hospitalization or intensive care, the antibody cocktail at that point, the virus will progress too far most of the time for it to really turn back the clock,” he said. “But if you get it early, it’s got a really, really strong record of success.”

Treatments will be available 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., seven days a week through appointments available at patientportalfl.com.

The treatment can be given regardless of vaccination status. There is no fee for treatments at the Brownwood site.

Patients who arrive with severe symptoms such as low oxygen-saturation levels will still be referred to an emergency room. But those with milder symptoms will be ushered to a treatment booth for an injection that can take less than 15 minutes.

Patients then will be observed for side effects for up to an hour by a staff of 16 health care workers.

State-supported sites have given more than 10,000 treatments, DeSantis said, supplementing private healthcare providers.

The Villages Health is recommending the treatment for about 30 patients a day, said Dr. Jeffrey Lowenkron, chief medical officer.

The treatment “Really ticks all the boxes for us,” said Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, Florida Division of Emergency Management Chief Medical Officer. “It works against all the variants, including Delta. It’s highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, and it works for post-exposure prophylaxis. I appreciate the governor’s leadership on adding this second major tool to the first one, which is the vaccines.”

Local officials on hand for the governor’s visit included State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and State Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford. Sumter County Commissioner Doug Gilpin was the lone representative in attendance from that board.