Editorial: Florida needs better leadership from DeSantis on the coronavirus pandemic
Dr. Alina Alonso understands what’s going on with the coronavirus.
Palm Beach County’s health director made that plain on Tuesday. “The trend line,” Alonso told county commissioners, “is concerning.”
She’s right. As she spoke on Tuesday, Palm Beach County recorded 1,122 new COVID-19 cases over the previous seven days — 99 more than the week before.
It’s the same troubling trend for Florida as a whole. The state logged 3,662 new cases on Tuesday — a jump from the daily average of 3,091 over the previous seven days. On Thursday, the state tallied 5,557 new cases, the highest total in over two months. By now, the mounting toll in Florida exceeds 768,000 infections and 16,000 deaths.
This is not flattening the curve, Alonso said pointedly. This is a roller coaster. And, taking barely concealed aim at Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Sept. 25 decision to allow all businesses across the state to reopen, she added: “This comes when you open too soon.”
Let us add: this is what happens when your governor reopens the nation’s third-most-populous state without emphasizing the basic safeguards of wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and frequently washing your hands.
This is what happens when your governor high-fives the crowd at a Donald Trump rally without a mask on, then touches his face — the very model of what not to do. This is what happens when he strips local governments of the ability to fine violators of must-mask policies and insists no schools should close to prevent contagions. This is what happens when the governor ignores poll-after-poll showing Florida residents' disapproval of his response to the pandemic.
To be clear: We don’t want to see Florida return to lockdowns. But there is reopening, and there is reopening safely. DeSantis, for instance, should have issued a mandatory mask-wearing decree along with his Phase 3 declaration that gave the green light to all businesses, including bars, to reopen at full capacity. He should have let local officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade counties continue to call the shots in their hard-hit communities.
Instead, DeSantis has barreled down a different direction, hosting discussions with outlier scientists and doctors who oppose lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing. DeSantis is acting less like a protector of the public’s health than a protector of Trump’s political fortunes in this must-win swing state.
DeSantis always seems to be taking his every cue from the president, who still reacts to this crisis, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans, by falsely claiming that the virus is going away and whining that the media are reporting facts. At a campaign rally in North Carolina last week, Trump complained, “All you hear is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.” He said the word 11 times, as if it were a curse upon him and him alone.
And just like Trump, DeSantis is leaning into herd immunity, the concept which says it’s desirable to let the virus speed through less vulnerable populations — the young and healthy — while isolating the most vulnerable. It’s in line with his thinking that college students should be free to party.
“That’s what college kids do,” DeSantis said last month. “They’re at low risk and I just think that we’ve got to be reasonable about this, and really focus the efforts on where the most significant risk is.”
The problems with this theory are not trivial. It rides on the idea that many millions more Americans should become infected than the 8 million to date. Do that, and the death count will soar commensurately. And the “vulnerable population” for this virus includes not only the elderly but also people with asthma, weight problems, diabetes and other underlying conditions. Keeping them protected, while everyone else is relaxing their guard, wouldn’t be so easy.
“Those people aren’t living in segregated communities,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a sharp critic of DeSantis’ position, said on CNN. “They’re living in homes with younger people, or other people. That’s how our society exists, so the problem is you can’t protect them.”
All of this adds a disturbing new element to the rising numbers we’re seeing in Florida. And Florida is hardly alone. According to Fortune magazine, new cases are increasing almost everywhere — in all but five states (Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Delaware, and New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia.
Although, this assumes we can trust the numbers. On Wednesday, the state delayed its daily statistical report for six hours as Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees questioned whether 95 people who were reported dead from COVID-19 actually died from the disease.
He said he'll undertake a wider investigation “to ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths.”
This might be reassuring, were it not coming from an administration that has floated the idea of dispensing with daily COVID-19 updates and which took county medical examiners out of the business of reporting COVID deaths – an administration, in other words, that looks like it’s trying to suppress bad news.
Soon after Alonso gave her sobering report on Tuesday, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker extended the countywide mask mandate for another 30 days. We’re glad our local leaders continue to are heed the public health expert. And not the man with the dangerous views in the Governor’s Mansion.