FILE - COVID-19 vaccine

(The Center Square) – There were 10,207 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida Sunday, more than any time since the pandemic emerged in March 2020.

More than half are between the ages of 25 and 55, but 96% are among the unvaccinated.

“Over 50% of our hospitalizations are between the ages of 25 and 55,” Florida Hospital Association President Mary Mayhew said Monday. “It is a rapid increase, not only in hospitalizations, but in the deterioration. Sicker, sicker individuals. This is just dramatically different from what we saw last year.”

Speaking on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Show, Mayhew said Florida’s hospitals, especially in Jacksonville and Orlando, are facing capacity issues.

“In Jacksonville, in one of our hospitals, their average age now is 42 years old,” said Mayhew, former secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019 before leaving to head the Florida Hospital Association earlier this year.

Mayhew said Florida COVID-19 hospital admissions have been increasing the last 27 days faster than anytime in 2020, with 96% of those hospitalized unvaccinated.

“This is clearly ripping through the unvaccinated,” she said, noting while Florida did a good job vaccinating seniors, it may have conveyed a message that younger people were not at risk.

“We’ve got to up voices, our messaging, and make sure we are loud and clear about how critically important it is for that age group to get vaccinated,” Mayhew said.

While the former AHCA chief didn’t criticize her former boss, plenty of others did. DeSantis issued an executive order Friday that gives parents the choice whether to adhere to school district mask mandates. The governor also has taken a hard stance against pandemic restrictions on businesses.

The DeSanitis administration pushed back against the criticism.

The Orlando Sentinel, in a Sunday front page article headlined, ‘DeSantis stops pushing shots,’ said the governor has tempered once-enthusiastic endorsement for vaccinations by appearing more sympathetic to anti-vaxxers – a political calculation as he advances his 2024 presidential ambitions for conservative media audiences.

The article drew strong rebuke from DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw.

“I feel like headlines such as @orlandosentinel’s contribute to vaccine hesitancy by turning it into a political issue,” she tweeted. “What if people read this lie and are misled into believing the governor isn’t supporting vaccines anymore? That will not encourage them to get vaccinated."

Pushaw said DeSantis “just had a press conference on Friday and again reiterated that the vaccines provide good protection against serious illness.”

In a later statement to Fox News, Pushaw said, “It is completely unfair and baseless to claim that Gov. DeSantis is no longer promoting vaccination. Reports to that effect are both inaccurate and irresponsible. The governor has consistently stated that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing serious illness in most people."

Pushaw said DeSantis is opposed to lockdowns and school mask mandates and the best way to make the topic moot “is to get vaccinated.”