DeSantis fueled culture war over masks, vaccine. So, of course, Florida leads COVID surge | Opinion

·4 min read

Here we are again, on pins and needles over the rampant spread of COVID-19 in Florida, a mere two weeks before children start in-person school in some counties.

It’s no joke: Florida leads the nation in COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations are surging to a horribly familiar crisis point.

This time, it’s the delta variant, more easily spread, more potent and more deadly.

This time, the infected, the hospitalized and the dying are younger.

There’s no mystery here: Ninety percent of the patients aren’t vaccinated.

The vaccine-hesitant crowd also isn’t wearing masks and they’re socializing and engaging indoors. They’re packing clubs, bars, concerts and protests. That some of these activities are outdoors might reduce the risk, but the viral load of COVID’s mutant delta variant — as we’ve seen — is even more dangerous.

Blame DeSantis

This is the no-mask, anti-vaccine Florida that Gov. Ron DeSantis groomed and enabled.

This is the red Florida he has indulged with political gobbledygook about personal freedoms in the middle of a public-health emergency — and here are the consequences: a dubious No. 1 national ranking in cases of COVID-19.

Yes, one could say that the large number of unvaccinated Floridians in the state chose their misfortune, but the government has an obligation to protect people and give them truthful information to make those decisions.

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But DeSantis and the GOP fueled a fierce political culture war over the use of masks and vaccines. He politicized the virus, repeatedly chose economic buoyancy over people’s health and drew partisan lines in the sand, as if the deadly infectious coronavirus droplets checked party affiliation.

The Republican-Democrat divide became fertile ground for misinformation and conspiracy theories to flourish and has led to vaccine hesitancy even among otherwise intelligent people.

It’s so confusing out there that people who aren’t mainstream-media-savvy can’t tell the truth from preposterous lies.

Elected officials have a responsibility to model good behavior, but DeSantis wouldn’t even discuss his own vaccination. It wasn’t until April, after much media prodding, that his spokeswoman confirmed he had gotten a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

What is he doing about the new crisis?

Nothing other than constantly congratulating himself on handling of a pandemic he has bungled at practically every step. In fact, he has been hiding the Department of Health data again at a time when the public needs it to make smart decisions.

Unvaccinated teen in coma

It’s heart-wrenching to see the suffering again.

I wrote about the delta variant in April after it was first detected in India and quickly made its way to Great Britain and California. Local health experts warned how fast this could become a threat to unvaccinated Floridians.

The ravages of this variant were predicted and preventable.

But who can compete with the optics of a governor refusing to give a damn and fundraising for his 2022 re-election run by selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” paraphernalia?

Florida Gov. DeSantis’ campaign merchandise takes a swipe at Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Florida Gov. DeSantis’ campaign merchandise takes a swipe at Dr. Anthony Fauci.


No respect for the COVID dead or the new round of people fighting for their lives, like 15-year-old Paulina Velasquez of Sunrise, a J.P. Taravella High School student.

Nine days ago, the unvaccinated teenager began having trouble breathing, was tired and couldn’t walk, her family has told the media. She was admitted to Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale on July 17. As of this writing, she’s in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator, struggling with COVID-19 and pneumonia. She is in critical condition.

“I just want to tell people: This virus is not a joke. It’s a real thing,” her brother Tomas said to WPLG Channel 10. “Before this, my sister was 100% healthy, 15-year old girl, always wore her mask, never took it off in public — and this still managed to happen.”

Her vaccinated mother, Agnes, also contracted COVID but had a milder case. She hasn’t left her daughter’s bedside in the ICU.

“It’s very hard, my heart is broken into a million pieces. I keep asking God, why, why my daughter, why not me in that bed?” Agnes told NBC 6.

The most likely answer: vaccination.

And anti-mask parents’ protests are putting pressure on schools to discourage requiring masks for unvaccinated children.

Please, Floridians, put aside the politics, wake up from the COVID state of denial. One of five new infections in the United States right now happen in Florida.

Vaccinate and wear masks, at least indoors.

We’re in crisis — and on our own again — without any leadership from the governor.

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