NY, Florida trade hot spots, insults
Tables have turned in states’ outlook during pandemic
In late April, as new coronavirus cases in Florida were steadily decreasing, Gov. Ron DeSantis began crowing how his state had tamed the pandemic.
He credited his decision to impose a state-specific quarantine on New York, then the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak. The move earned him praise in the White House and the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
Months later, Cuomo has clearly not forgotten.
“You played politics with this virus and you lost,” Cuomo said Thursday when asked in an interview about DeSantis’ earlier boasts.
With infections now rapidly spreading in Florida while they retreat in New York, the two states have come to reflect the rapidly shifting course of the coronavirus pandemic.
New York still has the country’s highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but the day-to-day numbers have been steadily falling: At its peak, the virus claimed 1,000 deaths a day in the state; on Thursday, the state recorded 17 deaths. Florida, among the states not mandating masks, rushed to reopen and on Friday reported its highest number of new cases in one day, with close to 9,000.
And in their divergent political responses to the outbreak, Cuomo, a Democrat, and DeSantis, a Republican, also mirror the divide over the virus among states and regions around the country.
The two brash, telegenic governors both embraced the increased visibility that the virus provided. Cuomo delivered daily sober updates on the virus, the state’s aggressive lockdown strategy and its cautious approach to reopening. DeSantis eagerly advanced a narrative pushed by President Donald Trump, seeing the economic damage as a greater risk than a virus that had, for months, largely spared his state.
The strain of the pandemic has frayed the ties between New York and Florida, two states that normally enjoy a more symbiotic relationship, even allowing for the occasional hints of schadenfreude.
On Wednesday, Cuomo ordered his own quarantine on travelers from states with high-infection rates — a group of eight that included Florida — to protect New Yorkers who now have low infection rates. The reversal of fortune was too much to pass up.
“Your hospital beds are filling up,” Cuomo said Thursday. “It means more people are getting sick. That’s what’s happening. And it’s now undeniable.”
DeSantis acknowledged that the trend in infections had shifted. “Our peak before was much lower than a lot of the other states — in the Northeast, for example,” he said on Thursday during a news conference in Tampa. “Really, the whole Sun Belt is seeing this.”
DeSantis said the state was prepared for the rise in cases. He did not address Cuomo’s remarks or the quarantine of Floridians traveling to New York. A spokeswoman for DeSantis, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said Cuomo was “sadly mistaken if he thinks this pandemic is a political contest.”
Even before the pandemic, New York and Florida engaged in some interstate rivalry, competing for residents and businesses. Florida has overtaken New York in population in recent years, a trend driven in part by the migration to the state of New Yorkers, census figures show.
But in their responses to the coronavirus, the differences between the two states have never been clearer.
Cuomo in April mandated all New Yorkers to wear masks when they could not stay 6 feet apart. DeSantis has declined to do the same, even after his own state surgeon general issued an advisory recommending masks in any setting where social distancing is not possible.
New York leaders, after a halting early response to the pandemic in March, mostly followed the recommendations of state public health officials, including requirements for widespread testing and contact tracing before reopening. Florida has moved to open its businesses faster, and without the same infrastructure for tracking down the close contacts of the infected.
DeSantis received praise for the state’s more limited response to the pandemic, including from Trump, who urged the quarantine of New Yorkers going to Florida. DeSantis believed harsh restrictions would result in citizens refusing to follow the rules.
He has also attacked the news media, which he said has been overly concerned about contagion in Florida’s reopened beaches and not worried enough about virus spread in the New York subway.
In early May, Florida began reopening business, and quickly: The state’s first phase of reopening included restaurants, gyms, barbershops and large spectator sporting events, with restricted occupancy. In New York, reopening began more haltingly, with manufacturing and construction businesses.
And when the White House called, DeSantis traveled to Washington to highlight the state’s progress next to Trump.
“When you look at some of the most draconian orders that have been issued in some of these states and compare Florida,” DeSantis said from the Oval Office in late April, including New York in a litany of several states, “Florida has done better.”
While Cuomo did not explicitly target his quarantine order to apply to Florida, he signaled in the days before making the announcement that the state’s recent treatment of New Yorkers was very much on his mind.
“Well, wouldn’t that be karma?” Cuomo said when asked about a quarantine in New York on MSNBC.
Florida’s quarantine affecting New Yorkers is still in effect: New Yorkers arriving at Miami International Airport were still being met by the National Guard and state health officials, told to head straight for their lodgings and ordered to quarantine there for two weeks.
People wait at a mask distribution site in Miami on Friday, when Florida reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in one day.