Coronavirus is killing us, Gov. DeSantis. It’s time for you to give a damn
With Florida’s economy crashing under the weight of the corona virus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis is working overtime to preserve our status as the world’s leading exporter of political comedy.
Friday, DeSantis mounted the bully pulpit to present House Speaker Jose Oliva, with a baseball bat inscribed with the words “Slayer of the healthcare industrial complex.”
It was a sophomoric bit of messaging on any day. It was inexcusably tone-deaf when the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Florida topped 500. At least 10 people had died since the crisis began.
There is no operator’s manual for handling the most singular health threat in this country in more than a century. But if there were, we would urge Gov. Gavin Newsom, of California, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of New York, or Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut to share it with Florida’s governor — quickly. These other state leaders have taken decisive actions, not necessarily popular, but deemed necessary, nonetheless, to slow the virus’ spread. Newsom ordered the 40 million state residents, with some exceptions, to stay home. Cuomo, Lamont and others have issued similar directives.
Unfortunately, DeSantis, who despite trying to appear large and in charge in front the microphone and TV cameras delivering coronavirus updates, has been a timid leader in the face of the growing scourge — and growing number of deaths — from the disease in his state. By Saturday, the number of confirmed cases had exceeded 700. At least two more people had died bring the state total to at least 12. The governor announced that he was thinking about isolation shelters for people with confirmed COVID-19 or symptoms. Again, no details, no idea when it could happen.
Like we said, timid.
On the same day of the baseball-bat nonsense, 14 Republican and Democratic members of
Florida’s congressional delegation joined to plead with President Trump on behalf of the medical professionals who stand between us and the virus that has already claimed the lives of 197 Americans and another 10,000 worldwide.
The names — Matt Gaetz, Ted Deutch, Al Lawson, Michael Waltz, Gus Bilirakis, Bill Posey, Mario Diaz-Balart, Val Demings, Francis Rooney, Daniel Webster, Greg Steube, Charlie Crist, Ted Yoho, Ross Spano and John Rutherford — are worth noting. Politically speaking, they are not anywhere on the same page. They’re not even reading the same book. But they joined to implore Vice President Pence, Trump’s coronavirus czar, to provide the “vital medical supplies, equipment, and personnel required to protect healthcare professionals, treat patients and combat the spread of COVID-19” in Florida.
In Indiana, Pence’s home state, a hospital chain is begging the public to sew face masks for use by its overwhelmed and underresourced staff. The hospitals’ Facebook post includes a video, pattern and instructions. In Georgia and California, the people who play doctors on TV are donating the contents of their costume and props departments to their real-life role models who have been told by our government to improvise essential safety gear using bandanas, scarves, and paper napkins.
The Florida congressional delegation’s bipartisan plea is a welcome development, but it may be too little, too late. After all, the president has clearly washed his hands of this national ordeal. After his administration has known since January that the deadly wave of coronavirus was going to wash ashore; after reportedly seeking to suppress the number of confirmed infections in the country by slow-walking test kits to the states; after taking “no responsibility” for the spread the disease domestically; after telling governors they’re on their own if they need medical supplies; after having no words of comfort at a Friday press conference — Not. One. Word. — for scared Americans, it’s not a stretch to say that this president does not fundamentally care whether we live or die.
DeSantis must step up, whether he ticks off his benefactor Trump or not. He must add his voice to the bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers and insist Florida get those “vital medical supplies, equipment, and personnel required to protect healthcare professionals, treat patients and combat the spread of COVID-19.” Otherwise, he’s as derelict as the president.
He must spearhead a plan to help the abruptly out-of-work. DeSantis made a decent start by eliminating the requirement that people seeking unemployment benefits must actively be looking for a job. Now, he must raise the abysmally low payment rate. In Florida, unemployment can reach a measly maximum of
$275 per week, for anywhere between 12 to 23 weeks. In highcost South Florida, that’s a joke. In fact, according to FileUnemployment.org, Florida is almost rock bottom in what it pays for unemployment insurance compensation. Only Alabama, Louisiana, Arizona and Mississippi, which pays the lowest at $235, keep Florida from complete embarrassment.
By raising the rate of payment, Florida will draw down more in federal funds. A provision in the coronavirus relief package passed last week by Congress and signed by the president — What else could he do? — says federal government will pay whatever Florida needs for unemployment compensation, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala told the Editorial Board. However, those funds will be based on the level that individual states already pay. Florida’s pay rate is so low, Shalala said, that, “A lot of our tax money is going to go to Michigan.”
Why would DeSantis allow that to happen? Will he let a “small government is best” ideology cheat Floridians out of adequate healthcare, as did his predecessor’s refusal to expand Medicaid?
There are nearly 400,000 people employed in Florida hotels and businesses that support the hotel industry who are out of a job, according to data released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. That number will soar when those employed in just about every other industry hard hit by coronavirus closures lose their jobs, too.
Unemployment and self-quarantine would be easier to bear if we knew that it would actually reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.
Public health professionals know how to do that, but DeSantis has elected not to put such people in charge. In the absence of coherent, evidence-based marching orders from DeSantis, local officials and industry executives have been making it up as they go along, getting farther out ahead of the curve than the governor.
The consequences of the governor’s hesitating approach are even being exported. Jeffrey Ghazarian, 34, died last week at a Pasadena, California, hospital, just days after a trip to Orlando’s Disney World and Universal theme parks. Pictures of Florida’s crowded beaches, taken days after every expert in the world was sounding the social-distancing alarm, have further cemented our place as an international punchline. Friday, DeSantis closed the beaches in Broward and Palm Beach counties, but is being sued by a Florida attorney to close all the beaches in the state.
On Friday, DeSantis issued the most widespread mandatory statewide restrictions on businesses to date — closing gyms, fitness centers and limiting restaurants to delivery service.
The virus is so contagious that universities were closed indefinitely, but the college kids were still mobbing Florida beaches for Spring Break.
Asked to explain, the governor delivered a rambling, incoherent monologue that went on for too long.
But DeSantis thinks he’s doing a heckuva job. He’s not.
Florida pays among the lowest unemployment benefits in the United States. Only four states pay less.