In Florida, even Christmas is fair game for politicization

·3 min read

And so this is Christmas — and Floridians seem to have plenty to celebrate.

The state's unemployment rate dropped under 4% for the first time since the crushing coronavirus business shutdown.

Gasoline prices, that had risen to the highest levels in years this fall, continued to ebb.

An estimated 6 million Floridians — a third of our population — will be traveling for the yearend holidays.

And retailers expected that, when all was ordered and bought, the 2021 holiday shopping season would be a bountiful one.

But in Florida, everything it seems, including Christmas, is fair game for politicization.

So we had a congressional candidate who hung a "Let's go Brandon" sign, code for dropping an f-bomb on President Joe Biden, on a holiday display featuring Santa Claus. Even the Grinch didn't go that far.

But it was the fast-spreading omicron coronavirus variant that threatens to be the lump of coal under this year's Christmas tree. By the start of the week, the state was labeled a community of high transmission in pandemic public health circles.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state had been allocated 3,100 doses of Astrazeneca’s Evusheld, an antibody combination intended to prevent immunocompromised individuals who are advised against getting vaccinated, or who had an insufficient response to the vaccine, from contracting COVID-19.

But though DeSantis aggressively touted monoclonal antibody jabs when the delta variant ravaged Florida, this hospital stopped the treatments saying they were ineffective against omicron.

Others were readying different omicron responses.

In Sarasota County, public health officials urged area residents to get a COVID-19 booster shot to prepare for a potential surge of the virus.

And CenterPlace Health, a federally qualified health center, launched a new initiative to deliver health services and COVID-19 vaccines with the help of a van.

Omicron hit Florida as schools let out for the annual winter break. But school officials don't think they have dodged a bullet and are bracing for a January COVID-19 spike for the second year in a row.

That could mean another round of fractious and scarring COVID, classroom mask mandate battles to start 2022. The Palm Beach County school district proposed a rule in which "personal attacks against individual Board members, the Superintendent, or District staff are prohibited." But would such a rule, in reaction to an onslaught of verbal attacks this year from parents upset over mask mandates, be constitutional?

COVID wasn't the only worry for school districts as omicron swept through the county. A vague, anonymous shooting and bomb threats that officials say were made on TikTok — but were not considered credible — still led to canceled classes on Dec. 17 in an abundance of caution.

Youth violence was the focus of an effort in Tallahassee, including classroom outreach and studying social media, by law enforcement, schools and community leaders addressing gun-violence and poverty.

On the heels of bad news about manatee deaths, and a year that saw an environmental disaster in Southwest Florida, state officials funded water quality projects in Alachua and Marion counties, including wastewater treatment improvements and conservation easements to limit land use near springs.

But environmental advocates were concerned about a proposed fertilizer mine in DeSoto County that they say puts the Peace River, an important drinking water source for Sarasota residents, at risk.

And a report cited North Manatee County — a fast-growing real estate development market — among the areas of the nation most threatened by cancer-causing air pollutants.

Nonetheless, it's Christmas. So let's end on a positive note — how a religious studies professor says everyone, believers and non-believers, can find meaning in a holiday that is about peace and good will.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: In Florida, even Christmas is fair game for politicization

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