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How Ron DeSantis' Covid Response became the model of what not to do

It wasn't that long ago that major media outlets ran stories of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) proclaiming "the pandemic won" or deserving an apology from public health experts and experts in his laissez- have panned faire approach to the coronavirus. But those ideas have aged badly as Florida grapples with rising Covid-19 hospital admissions, for which DeSantis seems particularly unequipped.

Comments DeSantis made to reporters on Wednesday to downplay the dire reality that Florida currently leads the nation in Covid hospital admissions for children was a case in point. Instead of implementing guidelines to solve the problem, DeSantis banned mask requirements in schools. On Wednesday, he went so far as to suggest – citing no evidence other than anecdotal anecdotes – that families of school-age children should be more concerned about children contracting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

"I consider COVID to be a very low risk," said DeSantis. “RSV is a bit more serious and only shows certain things that you focus on or not. Doctors told me that parents had come with sick children who received a negative COVID test and a positive RSV, and the parents were relieved.

DeSantis & # 39; Comments contradict data from his own Department of Health, which shows RSV cases have declined in recent weeks and can currently be counted on one hand. In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported earlier this month that Florida was between Jan.

That press conference came the day after DeSantis voiced his confusion over officials from his own state requesting ventilators and smaller breathing apparatus from the federal government – equipment needed to keep the state's hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

DeSantis – who last week admonished President Joe Biden, "Why don't you secure this boundary, and until you do, I don't want to hear any reference to Covid from you" – made comments to reporters on Tuesday suggesting that he was on the ventilator requirement either failing to notice or trying to deliberately mislead people.

"I would honestly doubt that is true, but I'm going to look because we have a lot of stuff we had in store for the past year and a half through the business continuity management department," DeSantis said. “I didn't have any inquiries on my desk. I was not informed about that. "

A short time later, NBC reported not only that the request had been made, but that the federal government had already sent the respiratory protective equipment to Florida.

In a written response to an email sent by Vox, Weesam Khoury, director of communications for the Florida Department of Health (DOH) claimed "to be clear that there is no shortage of ventilators in Florida," adding that the request " a proactive measure to ensure that there are consistent resources in the state inventory for use by "health facilities."

"You just have to deal with these waves"

DeSantis, a former member of Congress who stood out for his submissive praise of Trump during his 2018 gubernatorial election, became a national-conservative hero last year for his hands-free approach. As my colleague German Lopez explained last year:

Florida was relatively late in closing the nationwide, but was also among the first to reopen. The state also reopened very quickly – allowing restaurants, bars, and other businesses to reopen, sometimes at high or full capacity, within weeks of the lockdown ending. This rapid pace of reopening not only made it easier for people to infect each other with the coronavirus, but also made it much more difficult to assess whether each stage of the reopening resulted in uncontrollable growth due to delays in reporting coronavirus cases Infections.

In relative terms, Florida's Covid situation was far from a disaster until recently, and DeSantis has touted its ability to keep the state's unemployment rate low throughout the pandemic. In terms of Covid deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the state is still in the middle overall. But unfortunately there is no guarantee that it will stay that way, as Florida has seen the second highest number of Covid cases per capita in the US and the highest number of deaths (141 per day) in the past few weeks.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner of the George Washington University School of Medicine recently said on a CNN appearance that if Florida were a foreign country, the federal government would consider a travel ban.

"The viral load in Florida is so high right now that there are really only two places on the planet where it is higher," said Reiner. (These two places: Botswana and Louisiana.)

In a Talking Points memo article in which he argues that DeSantis is "the nation's worst Covid governor," Josh Kovensky describes how DeSantis made the sustained surge in Covid possible with its two-front war on mask and vaccine mandates:

When all of this preventable carnage began, DeSantis shook it off with a series of orders that, epidemiologists say, spilled gasoline on the already more contagious Delta variant. He made headlines across the country this year by banning two mandates that public health officials said are needed to keep hospital stays down: vaccine and internal mask requirements. The Florida government has banned corporations and government agencies from requiring vaccines and banned schools from introducing masking requirements.

Specifically, the DeSantis vaccination mandate ban includes cruise lines – a policy that MSNBC's Chris Hayes has described as the "single most insane Covid policy we have ever seen." However, a federal judge ruled earlier this week that there is nothing in Florida to stop cruise lines from asking for proof of vaccination.

The DeSantis mask ban is also being challenged by parents in court and ignored by at least one school authority. DeSantis responded that the Florida Board of Education may withhold paychecks from board members and administrators enforcing mask mandates, which in turn has led the White House to suggest that it might attempt to intervene. (On Thursday, the DeSantis administration withdrew from threats to withhold payment.)

Biden indirectly targeted DeSantis during a speech earlier this month, saying, "Only two states, Florida and Texas, account for a third of all new Covid-19 cases in the entire country. We need everyone's leadership … I tell these governors, please help, but if you don't want to help, at least get out of the way. "

"Only two states, Florida and Texas, account for a third of all new Covid-19 cases in the whole country. We need the leadership of all of them … I tell these governors, please help, but if you don't go" around help at least get out of the way "- Biden pic.twitter.com/dPDnGAJ38u

– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 3, 2021

It was announced on Thursday that just a few days after Florida's school year, 440 students in Palm Beach County had been quarantined for exposure to Covid-19. And Friday morning brought reports of four Broward County teachers dying of Covid in a single day.

But DeSantis seems undeterred.

“It's in the air. It's aerosolized, ”he said on Thursday about the Delta variant. "So we just have to understand when this happens, these waves are something to just grapple with."

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, in an email to Vox, dismissed research linking mask mandates to reducing the spread of Covid-19, writing, "Governor DeSantis will continue to protect individual rights from unscientific mandates, promoted by exaggerated politicians who desperately want to give the appearance of "doing" something "even if it has no effect."

DeSantis doesn't seem big on self-reflection

What explains DeSantis' stubborn refusal to recognize the gravity of the surge in the Covid case in Florida and to stop working against public health best practices? The answer to that question is up for debate, but one factor could be the belief that reversing course would undermine his brand as governor, who pinned it to the Libs by giving the Dr. Faucis wrinkled a nose at the world. This brand established DeSantis as the non-Trump frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

After all, DeSantis was selling “Don't Fauci My Florida” merchandise on its website just last month.

Since Fauci has conducted local and national interviews skilfully criticizing DeSantis' policies, DeSantis has continued to downplay the surge, saying last week that "this is our COVID season". Meanwhile, hospitals across the state are reporting "unprecedented" waiting times for beds.

Pointing to the fact that Covid-19 hospital admissions have declined in the Jacksonville area this week, Press Secretary Pushaw wrote to Vox, “COVID cases in areas of the state hit earliest in this wave, such as Jacksonville , have already started their decline as predicted – with no government agency mandating non-pharmaceutical interventions. "

"Governor DeSantis continues to support vaccination against Covid-19 and promote monoclonal antibody treatment for anyone who tests positive and is at risk of serious illness from Covid-19," she continued.

It is possible for Floridians to adjust their behavior and / or get vaccinated if the news gets worse, if they haven't already, causing new cases to trend back down. But even in this scenario, the fact remains that, by working steadfastly with public health experts, DeSantis has made Florida's Covid-19 problem worse than it had to be.

Update, August 13, 4:40 p.m .: Updated to include commentary from DeSantis' office and the Florida Department of Health.

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