Reprinted with permission from Press Run
Florida has become a Covid-19 debacle, again.
Now accounting for one-in-every five new cases nationwide, the Sunshine State under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has emerged as a beacon of irresponsibility. Not that he seems to care.
Off visiting Texas recently to take part in more GOP photo-ops at the border, DeSantis often brushes off the pandemic bad news. "It's a seasonal virus and this is the seasonal pattern it follows in the Sun Belt states," he said this week. (He blamed "quote-unquote 'experts'" for criticizing the unvaccinated.) The governor is busy though, selling anti-vaccine merchandise, like "Don't Fauci My Florida" t-shirts.
Question: Does the Beltway press care about the state's drastic Covid U-turn? This spring, journalists lionized DeSantis' supposed virus leadership— it was Politico that announced, "How Ron DeSantis Won the Pandemic." This, after 30,000 Floridians had already died from the virus.
This is the same DeSantis who spent last year trying to silence scientists, covering up data, rescinding mask ordinances, playing down the virus' threat, fighting with the Florida press, and portraying himself as a maverick under attack. He even foolishly placed one million orders of hydroxychloroquine in tribute to Trump.
The irony is that DeSantis is now facing a Covid crisis specifically because his supporters — Republicans — aren't getting vaccinated at the same rate as others in the state. If they were, Florida, and the rest of the country, would be approaching herd immunity. Instead, the proudly unvaccinated MAGA's are driving the Florida meltdown, with some counties reporting that new cases are coming 100 percent from those who refused to get the shot. Still, DeSantis won't act. He won't lead.
The Orlando Sentinel editorial page recently read the governor the riot act over his dereliction of duty:
At the moment, it's as if DeSantis has washed his hands of the matter and moved on to elections, borders, critical race theory, mocking Fauci or whatever else will get him a headline.
And every few days, nearly as many people are dying from COVID as died in the recent collapse of a condominium in South Florida.
Please, governor, we're begging you, handle the COVID problem. Be a leader.
How bad is Florida?
• New Covid cases are up nearly 200 percent over the past two weeks.
• Florida is third in the nation in per capita increases, accounting for nearly 20 perecent of the entire nation's new infections.
•The rate of positive tests is now well above 10 percent.
• Florida now boasts the fourth-highest rate of hospitalizations and the nation's highest average for daily deaths.
•The state's vaccination rate, 57 percent, remains a mediocre embarrassment.
• The Sunshine State has the second lowest rate of vaccinated nursing home workers in the country.
All of this makes the media's torrent of DeSantis valentines earlier this year look inexcusable. Beltway scribes lined up to tell the same story over and over: Democratic critics were wrong about DeSantis, Covid, and Florida, and now he's riding high within the GOP. They eagerly held him up as a rare Republican Covid star, pushing GOP talking points about how DeSantis had steered the Sunshine State into "boom" times.
"After a year of criticism by health experts, mockery from comedians and blistering critiques from political rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is standing unabashedly tall among the nation's governors on the front lines of the coronavirus fight," CNN cheered, adding that DeSantis remained "defiant and combative."
"Vindication for Ron DeSantis," the Wall Street Journal announced.
Politico applauded the "wonky" Florida governor and his Covid-fueled rise in Republican politics: "Conservatives are relishing the contrast and holding up DeSantis as an example of effective governance." In a report about Florida's supposed Covid success story, the New York Times quoted DeSantis bragging, "If you look at South Florida right now, this place is booming." (No Democratic officials were quoted in the Times piece to offer a counter perspective.)
I understand why DeSantis' communications teams wanted to get those stories placed in the national press — he clearly has his eyes on a White House run. But why did Beltway journalists play along and type up a series of extended press releases, pretending that DeSantis alone had figured out how to defeat a global pandemic by battling health officials urging caution and common sense?
As the Delta variant runs wild, will journalists who lauded DeSantis in the spring admit they got the story wrong, and tell the truth about the Covid disaster that Florida has become?
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