If coronavirus were a hurricane, it seemed to reach Category 5 status over the weekend. More than ever, Florida needs decisive, resolute guidance to get through this storm.
Instead, Ron DeSantis continues to muddle and spin his way through. For every good move, there have been too many missteps.
That’s not the sole reason Florida has become has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t need panic, but we do need an appropriate sense of urgency.
DeSantis instead continues to rationalize, pass the buck to local officials, personalize criticism, send mixed messages and generally fail to convey the gravity of the situation.
We realize how unprecedented this situation is, and sympathize with government officials trying to balance dangers of reopening society with the dangers of not reopening. There are no easy answers, especially when you’re flying blind.
Models and projections have been inconsistent. Many have been too gloomy. But sometimes the gloomy haven’t been gloomy enough. We turn your attention to a headline in the May 5 Orlando Sentinel: “Death toll climbs by 72 as model predicts near 4,000.”
The article was based on a study that projected Florida would have 3,971 deaths by Aug. 4. The state had 1,471 deaths at the time, but the shutdown had largely accomplished its goal of bending the infection curve.
The dire predictions of DeSantis’ critics had not materialized, and his spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferre, was moved to fire off a tweet: “This alarmist headline mimics the erroneous headlines of the recent past that were based on models that were wrong. If you want to get it right speak to @GovRonDeSantis.”
The death toll reached 4,514 on Tuesday, and it’s mid-July, not August.
We take absolutely no satisfaction in the headline prediction coming true. None. But the episode illustrates the cocksure attitude that is especially misplaced in this crisis.
The one thing we’ve all learned about COVID-19 is the need for humility. It’s far too unpredictable for anyone to declare that victory or doomsday is at hand. But DeSantis has too often acted as if he wanted nothing more than to hang up a “mission accomplished” banner.
When coronavirus first rolled into Florida, he downplayed its potential threat. He deserves a lot of credit for recognizing early the threat to nursing homes and locking them down. That saved lives. But then he resisted locking down businesses until the virus forced his hand.
When bars were reopened, state enforcement of social distancing rules was almost nonexistent.
DeSantis’ backers have accused media of peddling “panic porn,” and it’s true there has been a lack of context in some reporting. The splashy news Sunday was Florida breaking New York’s record of 12,274 cases in a day, with a shocking 15,300 cases reported. Largely left out was the fact Florida is testing many times more people than New York did in April.
That said, 15,300 new cases is astonishing. And the rates of people testing positive have consistently been in the teens, though we’re grateful to see them trending down.
DeSantis has emphasized over and over how the average age of infected people has dropped from the 60s to the mid-30s. That is good. Younger people are better able to withstand the virus. But again the news is tempered by the fact all those new cases among young people increases the danger to elderly and vulnerable.
Then there are the masks.
At this point, just about every reputable scientist says they help contain the spread. Texas backed down from its mask-optional stance and is requiring them. Even Donald Trump wore one on a visit to Walter Reed Military Hospital.
DeSantis is still stuck in March. He sees no need for a mask mandate.
There is wisdom in home rule and letting locals decide what’s best for unique. But coronavirus is the same whether you’re in Monroe or Miami-Dade County, Orange or Osceola. A statewide order should be a no-brainer, but DeSantis would rather let local officials make the tough calls.
Then there are schools. DeSantis says if Home Depot and Walmart can reopen, why not schools?
For one thing, big box stores are more like airplane hangars than small classrooms. You have a lot more opportunity to socially distance in Lowe’s than in your average elementary schoolroom.
No doubt, there are plenty of reasons why schools should reopen, but what’s the rush, especially with the numbers we’ve seen? Instead of going full-bore, the state should consider delaying the start of the school year until after Labor Day, which is when schools resumed classes for many years.
Hopefully by then the infection rate will be flattened. But whoever thought it would be as high as it is now? Today’s storm might look like a Category 3 in a couple of weeks.
The past four months have shown us how much we don’t know about coronavirus. But one thing we’ve learned is DeSantis behaves more as a cheerleader than a leader.
We want to governor to lead Florida through this. But if he’s going to continue in this manner, perhaps it’s time for Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez to take over the state’s coronavirus response. Because if you want to get it right, speaking to @GovRonDesantis just isn’t working out.
©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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