What happens when Republican governors institute policies that are 100 percent about showing their Trumpism, and zero percent about taking care of the people in their state? Here are two good examples.
In Texas, Greg Abbott has declared that no one can require proof of vaccination, As a direct result of this decision, the Texas Tribune reports that only half of workers at Texas nursing homes are vaccinated. And as a direct result of that, "The number of nursing homes across the state with at least one active COVID-19 case has shot up nearly 800% in the past month."
That's right. Remember all the work that was put into trying to protect people in nursing homes? The desperate scramble to buy protective gear from anywhere on the planet? All those tragic images of elderly family members isolated from their children and grandchildren for month after month? Yeah. Greg Abbott has sabotaged every moment of time and every ounce of effort by issuing a rule that any business that requires vaccination can't get a state contract — which directly impacts every nursing home in the state.
In Florida, Ron DeSantis has not just failed to institute mask mandates in the most COVID-riddled schools in the nation, but has spent the last weeks threatening any school that attempts to protect its students. As a direct result of that, hundreds of school boards have bowed down and sent kids off to classrooms they know are unsafe. That includes Pinellas County where, as the St. Pete Catalyst reports, the board sent kids back into classrooms without masks in spite of 204 cases of COVID-19 in just the first two days of school. That board directly cited DeSantis' order as the reason they couldn't take the simplest, cheapest, most effective step in protecting the children under their care.
Back in March, researchers calculated that the polices of Donald Trump were responsible for at least 400,000 deaths in the United States. But Trump's biggest contribution to the pandemic was having the federal government just sit it out—no national testing effort, no national lockdown, no rules on masks or anything else. When it comes to the individual states, it turns out there are some bonus deaths to be allocated to those governors who went above and beyond in placing their political ambitions ahead of their states—especially Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis.
A study conducted by Yale researchers and published at Commonwealth Fund, looked specifically at how policies around vaccination converted into hospitalizations and deaths. For a cluster of Northeastern states—Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island—the rate of vaccination average 74 percent in residents over the age of 18 by the end of July. Those states have turned out to be among the lowest in the nation when it comes to new cases during the wave of delta variant cases. On Friday, every one of those states was in the bottom seven in terms of cases per capita.
On the other hand, Florida and Texas once again topped the charts. As of the same time those other states were hitting 74% of their adult populations vaccinated, Florida reported 59 percent and Texas 56 percent. Those aren't the lowest levels in the nation, but they're in the bottom half. Considering the size of Florida and Texas, it shouldn't be surprising that the combination of high population, low vaccination, and destructively bad policy has kept the pair at the top of the charts for new cases of COVID-19.
But what it if, in some alternate universe, Texas and Florida had been governed by competent people. Yes, it seems like science fiction, but hang in there. What if these two states had competent leadership; leadership that rather than fighting against vaccination, encouraged it. What if Texas and Florida had vaccination rates as high as those of states in the Northeast? What kind of difference might it have made?
It's not as outlandish as it may seem. Yes, both Florida and Texas have millions of deep red voters who have folded anti-mask and anti-vaxx into the general anti-science / anti-sense philosophy that has come to dominate the Republican Party. But it didn't have to be that way. At any point in the pandemic, either Abbott or DeSantis could have demonstrated leadership [ lee-der-ship ]. They might have chosen to stop bowing down to the demands of the worst in their party, spoken forcefully in favor of good public health practices, and differentiated themselves from the rest of presumed 2024 field by doing the right thing. The Republican embrace of anti-mask and anti-vaxx could have been changed had any of the party's "rising stars" chosen to go with saving lives instead of appealing to the worst.
That didn't happen.
Instead, Florida had 39,000 unnecessary hospitalizations and 2,806 more deaths than it would have if DeSantis hadn't championed every wrong policy. And across the Gulf in Texas, Abbott might have saved his state from 32,000 additional vaccinations and over 1,900 deaths. These are, of course, just estimates. But if anything, the numbers they represent are low for several reasons.
First, the study looked only at vaccination rates. That's certainly reasonable considering how both governors have persecuted businesses, schools, and governments that have tried to institute any kind of vaccine policy. Whether it's cruise ships in Florida, or universities and nursing homes in Texas, facilities that elsewhere would have insisted on vaccination have backed away. Because they had to. DeSantis and Abbott didn't just voice an opinion, they blackmailed these businesses and schools into either operating an unsafe environment, or going out of business.
These numbers don't include the number of hospitalizations or deaths generated because both governors have failed to institute mask mandates and blocked the use of mandates by schools and local governments. The numbers also don't include the damage done by forcing businesses to reopen and schools to conduct in-person classes even though conditions had pointedly not reached the guidelines each state had put in place. And these numbers only run through July, meaning they don't catch hospitalizations and deaths from the ongoing wave of delta variant cases.
It's not that Ron DeSantis caused 2,800 unnecessary deaths in Florida and Greg Abbott caused 1,900 deaths in Texas. It's that they caused at least that number. Oh, and no one should forget that 700 Texans who died because the power grid failed due to a design that makes it purposefully fragile. Greg Abbott deserves his share of those, as well.