As the sheer magnitude of Florida’s August 2021 COVID crisis has become more apparent, national media have time and again qualified discussion of the state’s problems by conceding Governor Ron DeSantis Covid strategy had “worked” to this point relative to New York and California among other places.
DeSantis narrative, which has been perfected in collusion with Fox News paints the picture of the leader of the national Republican Party (with Donald Trump off social media and most TV screens) as a champion of freedom, virtue and owning the libs while keeping Florida safer than blue states.
The problem with this narrative is it is simply not true. Not on masks, not on schools.
- During the previous height of the pandemic 91% of Florida residents were under some sort of local ordinance requiring or suggesting mask wearing. These ordinances at the time were thought to be enforceable, but the Governor eventually pardoned violators. The suggestion from many in the chattering classes is Florida had no mask restrictions, which was untrue.
- Conservatives LOVE to compare Florida to New York in terms of cases. The disgraced Andrew Cuomo is a worthy target of the right, but the narrative they promote glosses over the fact outside the initial wave in March-May 2020, from June 2020 until June 2021, Florida and New York had roughly similar numbers of transmissions, hospitalizations and deaths. Currently in this fourth wave, New York is averaging about one fifth the daily cases of Florida.
- Florida’s spike in winter 2020/2021 was per anecdotal evidence down partly to tourism and people visiting the state who openly violated local masking ordinances, having been encouraged to visit “free” Florida by the Governor’s rhetoric often featured in conservative media. Nonetheless masking at a local level by residents kept many Floridians safe.
- DeSantis has gotten a ton of credit from conservatives and even some moderates about keeping schools open last year. But the fact remains many larger school districts gave an option for students to continue to learn from home even after required to reopen by the Governor.
- Last year we did not have the highly-contagious Delta variant nor the gaudy numbers of daily cases and hospitalizations as Florida’s schools re-opened for kids. Particularly in non-urban and exurban areas where the virus never quite made the dent that it did in more densely-populated places, this is a crisis far greater than anything that was faced during the last academic year.
- Palm Beach County Schools reopened this week and we already have 440 people quarantined and over 50 confirmed cases in the system (I am told the actual number is higher than this, but sticking with the published reports for now).
- Four teachers in Broward Schools have passed away from COVID this week and school has not even started in that county but teacher prep days have.
In all these cases the ability for those closest to the problem to make life-saving decisions did exactly that- saved lives. But in Summer 2021 with COVID peaking in Florida, hospitalizations at a record level, deaths pilling up and local officials neutered by a power-hungry Governor with autocratic-instincts and an obsession with national attention, our citizens are left helpless against the rampant spread of the delta variant.