Florida's DeSantis flubs relevant detail about coronavirus threat

"I don't think nationwide there's been a single fatality under 25," the Florida governor said about the pandemic. Unfortunately, he's wrong.
Image: Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about the COVID-19 virus during a news conference at the Florida Department of Health, in Miami on March 2, 2020.Brynn Anderson / AP file
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By Steve Benen

It was late last week when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) announced a stay-at-home order, long after most states had already taken the step. By way of an explanation, the Republican governor said he'd only just learned that people without symptoms can spread the coronavirus. "[W]e didn't know that until the last 24 hours," Kemp said, adding that the realization was "a game changer for us."

It was odd to hear the chief executive of a large state publicly concede he did not know a basic piece of information that most Americans learned a while ago.

Exactly one week later, Kemp's neighbor to the south had a related incident -- except in this case, we saw a governor who still did not know a relevant detail about the pandemic threat.

[Florida] Governor Ron DeSantis falsely claimed that the novel coronavirus hasn't killed anyone under 25 nationwide. DeSantis was talking about the timeline for reopening schools in the state at an education meeting yesterday, Apr. 9. "This particular pandemic is one where, I don't think nationwide there's been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn't seem to threaten, you know, kids," DeSantis said.

The Florida Republican added that his assumptions "should factor into" the state's policymaking, adding, "I think the data on that has been 100% consistent.... I've not seen any deviation on that."

DeSantis probably should've checked before bringing such a claim to the public. While there's evidence that the coronavirus threat is more serious for the elderly, a CNN fact-check piece explained, "In reality, the CDC reports on its website that four people between the ages of 15 and 24 and one person between the ages of one and four have died. CNN has also reported on the death of a newborn in Connecticut on April 1 and an infant in Illinois last month whose death is being investigated as possibly caused by the virus. Young people can also serve as carriers of the virus, transmitting to the elderly and people with underlying conditions -- those most at risk."

The Florida governor has already been the subject of considerable criticisms, in part for waiting too long to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, and in part for loosening stricter guidelines imposed at the local level. DeSantis sparked a related controversy by creating exemptions in his order that may put some Floridians at risk.

Yesterday's mistake doesn't help matters.