Coro­n­avirus is killing us, Gov. De­San­tis. It’s time for you to give a damn

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - OPINION -

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 FileUnem­ploy­, 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.

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