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The Malign Neglect of Ron DeSantis

March 30, 2020
I-95 backup

Back-up at Florida-Georgia line after governor ordered roadblocks for incoming traffic.

As I am writing this, Florida officially has 5,472 confirmed Covid-19 cases. When the new numbers come out this afternoon, the number will be close to 6,000 or maybe higher. Miami-Dade County alone has 1,632 confirmed cases, and Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) has 1,152. The positive hit rate for the testing that has been done is just under 10% of everyone who has been tested so far. Florida now ranks 4th in the number of cases, and is on track to surpass California in a day or so. We are the new coronavirus hot spot. 

But Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to order a state-wide shutdown of businesses and school closures or stay-at-home order. Today his big announcement was a safer-at-home advisory for the four big counties in South Florida from Palm Beach to the Keys that have ALREADY had even more stringent measures in place for more than 10 days. In other words, this is nothing but an empty gesture to make it appear that he’s doing something.

Local governments in South Florida and other big cities like Tampa and Orlando have had to make the hard–and often unpopular–decisions to close businesses and keep people at home.  The city of Miami Beach shut down hotels, bars, and restaurants week before last at the height of the Spring Break crowd. Miami-Dade and Broward also closed all beaches and parks, marinas, etc. as well as all non-essential businesses. All non-residents were ordered to leave the Keys last week, and US-1 is blocked for all non-residents.

But DeSantis still hasn’t ordered all other beaches throughout the state to close down, leaving many on the Gulf coast and northern Florida crowded with drunk college kids there to party on Spring Break–leading to shocking images shown all over the country on news media.

DeSantis’s most decisive–and stupifyingly incomprehensible–order was to proclaim that anyone arriving in Florida from the New York area would have to put themselves into quarantine for 2 weeks. Of course, this is completely unenforceable. His next move was to impose roadblocks at the state line on I-95 and I-10 on incoming traffic. This was so state troopers could issue (essentially non-enforceable) orders to people arriving from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Louisiana. The roadblocks, of course, backed up traffic for miles on these major arteries.

DeSantis’s thoroughly Trumpian logic would be that the contagion is being brought in by  outsiders, even though the state already ranks near the top in terms of active Covid-19 cases and the disease is mostly being spread by community transmission. The political motivations aren’t hard to see here. DeSantis is telling his voting base that the problem is just with those wicked people from the Northeast or in South Florida (which is regarded by most people in the rest of the state as virtually a foreign country), and that they can just go on about their business while those sources of contagion are isolated. Of course, this is utter nonsense, but South Florida votes heavily Democratic and the fact that the local economy there is being devastated by shut-downs won’t hurt DeSantis’s popularity. And he can look as if he’s taking action.

Meanwhile, several large cruise ships with Covid-19 cases aboard are stuck dead in the water because they are not allowed to dock at Florida ports. The Zaandam, owned by the Holland-America Line (a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines, headquartered in Miami) now has 4 dead people on board, and roughly 20% of the 1000 passengers and crew have symptoms or have been diagnosed with Covid-19. DeSantis told Fox News on March 30 that he does not want to have the ship disembark in Florida. “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources…We view this as a big big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in Southern Florida right now.” Apparently, he’s perfectly willing to have more passengers and crew die on board without medical help.

DeSantis just blocked a well-respected reporter from the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times from entry into his daily virus press conference in Tallahassee. Evidently, he didn’t like the criticism he was getting from those publications.

It’s also worth noting that DeSantis, like his predecessor now-Senator Rick Scott, has blocked the extension of Medicaid to low income Floridians under Obamacare. So if they get sick, basically they’re on their own.

It may not be too long before DeSantis’s insouciance about anti-pandemic measures outside of the big metropolitan areas starts to backfire as the virus spreads to his small-town, evangelical, and elderly base. Some churches are still holding large services even in places where gatherings have been limited to 10 or fewer. They evidently think they will be protected by the power of prayer.

But will DeSantis pay a political price for his irresponsibility? Perhaps not. When you’re in a cult, you just believe.

 

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