DeSantis’s Rebellion Against Public Health

Governor Ron DeSantis, R-FL., decided on Sept. 23 that Florida, a state with over 760,000 COVID-19 cases and 16,000 deaths, was ready to embrace Phase 3 of reopening.

This decision was made in conflict with the CDC’s guidelines for Phase 3 of reopening. Florida has not met nor has it come close to meeting the “gating indicators” that display eligibility for more relaxed COVID-19 protocols. 

One such indicator is a 14-day decline in the number of reported COVID-19 cases. However, Florida reported 85 more cases on Sept. 23 than it did on Sept. 9. Within those 14 days, daily reported cases did not decline. On average, they trended upward.

When considering Florida’s consistently inadequate response to COVID-19, DeSantis’s motion to “open” Florida is deeply concerning. It is a reminder that he is ill-prepared to protect Floridians from experiencing more death, illness and economic devastation.

Despite public health standards implying that Florida should not resume “business as usual,” DeSantis forged onward. He saw no issue in packing 90,000 fans into the University of Florida’s stadium or allowing restaurants, bars and gyms to open at full capacity. Why?

DeSantis has an executive committee called the Re-Open Florida Task Force. Though its primary focus is a public health crisis, there is not a single public health professional that serves on it.

Instead, DeSantis hired an arsenal of men that were sure to reinforce his anti-lockdown philosophy. Members Jayanta Bhattacharya and Michael Levitt are medical professors at Stanford. Another member, Martin Kulldorff, teaches at Harvard Medical School. All three men denounce lockdowns and promote herd immunity.

Yet these men are not without disputes that taint their titles. Bhattacharya is being investigated by Stanford following accusations of skewing data on the lethality of COVID-19 for political purposes.

DeSantis also met with Scott Atlas, a member of Trump’s COVID-19 task force, in late August. Atlas discourages wearing masks, but he is not a public health professional.

These men, picked deliberately by DeSantis to reinforce his ideas, advocate heavily for allowing the less vulnerable population to resume their daily lives unmitigated. If they contract the virus, the task force shrugs and feels that this is a necessary evil in attaining herd immunity.

DeSantis’s decision to ignore actual public health professionals that live, work and practice in the state of Florida is economically irresponsible, politically charged, and deadly.

The foible in the herd immunity plan is that the vulnerable population is not isolated from the less vulnerable. Healthy teenagers live with parents with preexisting health conditions. College students interact with elderly cashiers when buying groceries. Nurses in nursing homes are responsible for some of the most delicate members of society.

It is, therefore, impractical to assume that herd immunity can be attained by letting “just the less vulnerable” population get COVID-19. Besides that, it is downright cruel that DeSantis can go so far as expecting young people to simply accept their fate of contracting the virus.

The health of the “less vulnerable population,” over 7 million Floridians aged 34 and under, is not trivial.

DeSantis wants to paint the picture that Florida is thriving and recovering. He somehow believes that by ignoring the severity of the virus, it will cease to exist. He wants to imitate a return to normalcy.

Not everyone shares his destructive mentality. DeSantis invites businesses to open, but revenue continues to decline as many people are too financially unstable or scared to go out to restaurants, Disney World, or the movies. Florida’s unemployment was at a staggering 7.6% as of September 2020.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber denounced DeSantis’s herd immunity approach, explaining the peril it has placed his community in. He feels he has been forced to protect residents “from their government… because we can’t even impose…citations for not wearing a mask.”

With increasing COVID-19 cases, deaths, and continuous economic hardship on the horizon, what does DeSantis stand to gain from continuing to reject public health experts?

The political motivation is obvious. DeSantis wants to impress President Trump, he wants to please his base and his fellow party members. It is plain and clear, yet it warrants the reminder that COVID-19 is not a partisan disease. The virus will attack anyone and everyone. Giving partisan politics priority over the disease is selfish and destructive.

DeSantis must realize that attempting to escape reality will not make it go away. While he pursues plans that will earn him praise from Trump or reinforce his rhetoric that lockdowns and masks are unnecessary, Floridians are getting sick, dying, losing jobs, and closing businesses.

The only way Florida stands a chance of recovering is if DeSantis implements measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. People and business owners want to feel safe and secure carrying out their daily lives. Things are not going to get better if a large part of the population remains afraid to leave their homes.

Featured image: Governor Ron DeSantis. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3jjY16m)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.   

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