I must admit that I am feeling both victimized and vindicated, a difficult combination to personally process. This isn’t about me, but please indulge this writer for a moment.
Three weeks ago, as I was regularly sounding the alarm about increased positive tests and rates in Florida, I was told by many people that I respect to “cool it”. In the process, I lost a number of Twitter followers, something I am accustomed to from the past, but more for me being an ass or an idiot, or saying nice things about an outstanding soccer player named Michael Bradley, than something deadly serious like this.
Posting real numbers and detecting early stages of ominous trends that I fearfully felt would lead to a new spike in this state was out-of-bounds to many. At the time we in Florida were recording about a 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day and the positive test % had jumped from about 2% to 5%.
The reality I discovered in the next few days was this: for Trump-backers COVID-19 was either a media hoax or a Chinese import. Wearing a mask was an invasion of “personal liberty,” and a fascist measure. For people on the left, Black Lives Matter and the need to protest (something I wholeheartedly agree with) took precedence. I was told privately by more than one prominent person on the left, that raising COVID-19 alarms would lead to protesters being blamed. The politics demanded I stop the hysteria.
Meanwhile, some soccer friends accused me of hyping Florida numbers to try and create momentum to sabotage league restarts- MLS the US’ top division will play its first six weeks after play resumes on July 7, entirely in the Orlando area, and USL which governs the most prominent lower divisions has four professional teams in the state. MLS teams begin arriving in Orlando on June 24 for training.
My problem was, for once in my life, this long-time politco did not give a damn about the politics. My concern was public safety. Unfortunately, I proved not only right but actually was not right enough – my fearful prediction in late May that we’d equal or lightly surpass our early April “peak” now looks in hindsight overly rosy.
We’re in the epicenter of a global pandemic now. Per capita new cases in Florida during the last week are ahead of “hot spots” like Russia, Pakistan and India while only slightly behind Brazil, the acknowledged global leader in bungling response to this virus.
I was moved by all of the people in this state trying to act responsibly who have faced discrimination as a result of being selfless and caring. These are the true heroes right now in the state beyond the first responders and medical experts.
But let’s talk about our elected officials. Our trustees.
Governor Ron DeSantis, I remain convinced wanted to do the right thing at times early on in March, but kept getting push back internally from MAGA Republicans. He also wanted to rely on data, a novel concept but has abandoned that approach to placate an online lynch mob of Republicans. So in the end he became “Reckless Ronnie the Ridiculous,” and has put the state’s long term public AND economic health in serious jeopardy.
Despite our Governor’s national reputation, which is largely unearned as a “Mini Trump,” he’s demonstrated some of the right instincts to govern in a crisis. Balancing economic and health interests was critical and DeSantis at times showed he could do that. But his performance was inconsistent and uneven – he would sound the right note one day, enter MAGA country the next.
Like all Republican officials in high places in the era of Trump, DeSantis is always one “mistake” away from an angry Presidential tweet which in turn leads to a primary challenge and possible political oblivion. This eventually became an overriding factor in the Governor’s thinking.
DeSantis’ reluctance to follow his own instincts and shut Florida down, curb infections, and take a short-term economic hit, so when the real busy tourist seasons roled around (Late June-early August and then October to March) have been costly. Truth be told if done right, we’d be not only open for business by late June, but be to exude confidence that we had defeated the virus and moved on. Consumer/public confidence drives the economy and right now confidence in Florida’s ability to cope and be safe is maybe 50-50 among the general population. That’s not a way to fire things back up.
Some of the Governor’s thinking no doubt revolved around Holiday weekends- Memorial Day and July 4 as well as major sports leagues, MLS, NBA and WNBA’s desire to use the state as a staging ground while other places were shut down.
The Governor faced critics early on – Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat seemed anxious to shamelessly raise her own profile while being very short on specifics but long on righteous indignation. Fried’s game seemed to be to oppose whatever DeSantis did, and ignore the balancing act he had to engage in. She not only proved less than productive but then was largely disengaged when the real crisis started.
How about local elected officials? Many of these are Democrats who were reactive and looking to blame Trump or DeSantis for things entirely within their control locally. The best local elected officials in the state in dealing with the crises early on were actually Republicans – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. However, both eventually started behaving like typical Republicans in the MAGA era, exposing their populations to huge risks.
Georgia and Texas acted wholly irresponsibly in how they reopened. Florida didn’t. Governor DeSantis without receiving much credit from the media put forth a data-based plan to reopen. One which made sense, caused deliberation initially, but now seemingly has been tossed in the rubbish bin.
The Phase 1 reopening was timed well and during that period the rate of infections and positive tests remained low. But then the accelerated move to Phase 2 in 64 of 67 counties, Memorial Day activities and BLM protests triggered an uptick which weeks later looks uncontrollable – like a Casey Jones driven train coming into station.
The number of young people hitting bars and restaurants has helped more than leaders want to admit trigger the uptick – the median age of those infected quickly dropping confirms this as do the few bars in the Orlando and Jacksonville areas that have been forced closed by clusters of Coronavirus after successful re-openings.
For example, on Saturday the median age for new cases in Oranage County was 29. Yes, 29 years old. Contrary to the narrative of some, young people can indeed get COVID-19 and while they almost all live, this is a respiratory illness that could lead to permanent breathing problems and lung damage.
The profiles in courage among elected officials since the state fired up Phase 2 have been few and far between. Both Republicans and Democrats bare blame- exceptions like Tampa Mayor Jane Castor are notable because most have been effective at spinning and creating media narratives while attempting to accelerate reopening. This includes most Democrats.
Our elected leaders desperate to secure electoral success in November are more interested in reopening the economy and getting whatever business they can to Florida while other states remain cautious to reopen.
Governor Ron DeSantis to his credit has tried at times to take a methodical, data-based approach, but DeSantis’ party is filled with elected officials of a different persuasion, thus the Governor has caved. Meanwhile, many elected Democrats have been more eager to reward, from where I sit the donor class. This means facilitating a large-scale reopening that pleases donors while shifting the focus to social and woke liberal issues to placate the base.
What this all adds up to is elected official irresponsibility and malpractice. That has led directly to what is now a runaway pandemic that nobody in a position of power wants to confront.
What can change this? At this point, probably nothing. I hope we’re not doomed in Florida with the lethal combination of a pandemic and long-term economic downturn, but it’s tough to find silver linings in a sky of black.