Florida governor suppressed Covid information before 2020 election to help Trump, report says

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Donald Trump’s make America great victory rally at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on 29 October 2020 ((EPA))
Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Donald Trump’s make America great victory rally at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on 29 October 2020 ((EPA))

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - a stalwart ally of Donald Trump - reportedly tried to suppress negative information about the status of the state's coronavirus pandemic between early September and the 3 November general election.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel revealed the coverup in a recent investigation.

The newspaper found that Mr DeSantis used his influence to direct a state's department of health to stop issuing public statements regarding Covid-19 between 3 September and 3 November.

The paper noted that the information suppression began in the run up to the 2020 election.

The investigation alleges that Mr DeSantis's actions "suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation, dismissed public health professionals, and promoted the views of scientific dissenters" who supported Mr DeSantis' response to the virus.

Mr DeSantis declined to be interviewed by the paper, but told Fox News' Tucker Carlson that the criticism of his leadership was "all political."

Fred Piccolo Jr, Mr DeSantis' spokesman, did provide comment to the Sun Sentinel report.

“The governor has been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “Wash hands, maintain social distance, wear a mask, etc. But he’s also adapted to the data as it becomes available.”

The investigation found that earlier in the pandemic, the state's department of health denied that the virus was being spread person to person and that it did not release details on the earliest cases in the state.

The Sun Sentinel story was based on interviews with scientists, politicians, state officials, public records and doctors.

Among the paper's findings was examples of the governor's spokesman downplaying the virus, saying it was less deadly than the flu and citing statistics that suggested the virus was not as dangerous as reports indicated.

Some leaders in Florida fought against the state's messaging.

Dan Gelber, the mayor of Miami Beach, criticised the state's leadership during a press event as Florida's coronavirus numbers were approaching 900,000.

“It’s become pretty clear that what Florida is doing right now isn’t working. It’s unmistakably clear that Florida’s approach to managing this pandemic is failing pretty horribly,” he said.

Mr Gelber advocated for a statement mask mandate, and noted that testing sites in his community had lines stretching around the block as a result of the state rolling back its testing facilities.

“The state has rolled back its testing facilities … the state needs to take control of this,” he said.

Mr Gelber blamed Mr DeSantis' policies for a huge increase in coronavirus numbers shortly after he completely re-opened the state in September.

He claimed that Mr DeSantis' reopening prevented local governments from enforcing individual mask mandates, resulting in an "enormous surge" of coronavirus cases.

The investigation also claims that Mr DeSantis prevented leading scientists in the state from participating in public dialog about the coronavirus while simultaneously elevating skeptical voices that aligned with his approach to virus response.

In August, Mr DeSantis invited Dr Scott Atlas - who formerly worked as Mr Trump's lead doctor responding to the coronavirus before resigning - to appear with him at events where they tried to discredit social restrictions in response to the virus.

Dr Atlas is a radiologist and does not have expertise in dealing with infectious diseases.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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