President Joe Biden delivered remarks yesterday on the effort to combat the pandemic, and noted that Florida and Texas alone account for one third of the nation's new COVID-19 cases.
Though he didn't name names, the president added, "I say to these governors, 'Please, help.' But if you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing."
It was a notable plea in large part because officials like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are, in fact, getting in the way of people trying to do the right thing: as COVID conditions worsen in the Sunshine State, the Republican has prevented the private sector from requiring proof of vaccinations, while also blocking mask requirements.
Indeed, the governor recently delivered out-of-state remarks to a conservative group, insisting his state say "no to restrictions and no [to] mandates." DeSantis has taken these steps while simultaneously trying to undermine public confidence in public-health authorities.
Yesterday, the Floridian decided the smart move would be to blame news organizations. The Orlando Sentinel reported:
Despite a record number of COVID-19 patients at hospitals across the state and dire warnings from the Florida Hospital Association, Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed capacity concerns as news media "hysteria" and insisted "our hospitals are open for business." His comments came Tuesday as people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Florida rose to an all-time high of 11,515, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He added, "Obviously the media does hysteria, you try to fear monger."
To help put the statistics in context, as recently as mid-June, there were roughly 1,000 Floridians hospitalized with the coronavirus. Now, it's over 11,000, with the state breaking its own record yesterday for the third consecutive day.
As for the GOP governor's boast that Florida's hospitals "are open for business," the Associated Press reported, "Dr. O'Neil Pyke, chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center in Miami, said many Florida hospitals are facing staffing shortages. Hospitals also report putting emergency room patients in beds in hallways, and some are again banning visitors or postponing elective surgeries."
It's also worth dwelling on DeSantis' complaints about media "hysteria" and "fear mongering." At issue is a public-health crisis with quantifiable metrics -- which currently look dreadful. As we discussed the other day, over the course of the crisis, conditions in Florida had gotten bad, but not this bad. Tom Bossert, a former Homeland Security Advisor in the Trump White House, noted, "This wave is now larger than all previous waves." An NBC News report added, "The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S."
One need not be hysterical to point at reality and express concern. The infections and hospitalizations are not a media creation; they're painfully real.
The question is what the ambitious governor intends to do about the crisis.
For now, DeSantis doesn't appear to have much of a plan. "I think it's very important that we understand that the best defenses we have are the combination of the natural immunity that's been built up, and our seniors-first vaccination efforts," the governor said yesterday, adding that he believes "interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic."
All of which amounts to a policy in which the Florida Republican is effectively telling much of the state, "Good luck."
Is it any wonder there's some preliminary evidence that DeSantis' public support is starting to falter?
In mid-March, Politico published a report under text that read, "How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic." There's a reason those headlines have disappeared.