When it comes to the pandemic, conditions in Florida remain dire. While the total number of Covid-19 cases is no longer spiking, statewide hospitalizations and fatalities continue to climb.
Indeed, the NBC affiliate in Tampa reported this morning that there's a backlog at local funeral homes and crematories, which are "overwhelmed" with "an influx of bodies like they've never seen." The report referenced one local facility where bodies have been "stacked to the ceiling."
It's against this backdrop that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refuses to abandon his position of passivity, recently touting his opposition to state "restrictions" of any kind -- including schools that want to require mask protections for children.
The Republican governor may believe his constituents agree with him, but there's fresh evidence to the contrary.
As Florida deals with a surge in Covid-19 cases and a battle intensifies over an executive order issued by Governor Ron DeSantis to ban mask mandates in schools, a majority of people in Florida say 60 - 36 percent that they support requiring students, teachers, and staff to wear masks in schools, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of Florida adults released today.
That was not the only discouraging result for DeSantis in the survey. Quinnipiac also found that 69 percent of Floridians oppose the governor's plan to withhold school leaders' salaries if they require masks; 68 percent believe local officials should be able to require masks in indoor public spaces if they believe it is necessary; and 64 percent believe masks are effective in slowing the spread of Covid-19.
DeSantis, on the other hand, supports withholding school board members' salaries, opposes local control and recently suggested that mask protections have "not proven to be effective," reality notwithstanding.
In other words, when it comes to key elements of the public response to the pandemic, Florida's governor and Florida's electorate are not on the same page.
For DeSantis, whose political ambitions are hardly a secret, the circumstances are hardly ideal.
But electoral considerations are not the only relevant element here. Local officials having to decide between the governor's political vision and protecting the public during a health crisis are increasingly concluding that DeSantis' wishes just aren't that important -- and the more Floridians reject the governor's vision, the more likely it is that communities will feel justified in defying him.
For example, it was initially two school districts that said they would ignore DeSantis' order and require mask protections for children to curtal the spread of the virus. Then the total grew to four. Then five. As of last night, 10 school districts in Florida have prioritized public health over the governor's political plans.
Given the size of the relevant counties, The Washington Post reported this morning that more than half of Florida's students "are now enrolled in public school districts with mask mandates despite threats of sanctions."
For its part, the DeSantis administration still intends to punish communities that try to curtail the spread of the virus through mask protections. The Biden administration, meanwhile, has reached out to local officials in the state, suggesting there may be federal reimbursement funds available. Watch this space.
Update: Walt Disney Company's cruise division is going to require proof of vaccination from all passengers above the age of 12 traveling from Florida to the Bahamas. This, too, is in defiance of DeSantis' order, raising questions about the governor's appetite for going up against Disney.