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As Coronavirus Rages, Florida Plays Politics

As Coronavirus Rages, Florida Plays Politics

By Steve Smith

Florida is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with 15,300 new cases reported this week the highest single-day total yet in any U.S. state and a quickly diminishing supply of ICU beds, but partisanship has prevented the implementation of a mask mandate, which health experts say could save thousands of lives. Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state of emergency for the pandemic on Tuesday for another 60 days. 

During that same 60-day period, several public events are planned for Florida that have super-spreader potential. The NBA is scheduled to restart its season in Orlando, the Republican National Convention is slated to take place in Jacksonville, schools are supposed to open, a primary election will be held and colleges will be back, perhaps with football on their campuses. All while the pandemic rages and our so-called leaders play politics.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel and others, the state has now become a major hotspot, with 2,700 cases per 1 million in population over the first seven days in July, according to a New York Times analysis, second only to Arizona with 3,300 in that time.

On July 12, Florida reported 15,300 new COVID-19 cases, the highest-single day total in the U.S. since the pandemic began. In all, the state now has reported 302,000 cases and 4,520 deaths.

On July 14, the state posted another new record high death toll.

Face masks remain a “personal choice"

Despite reporting more new cases than all of Europe combined and 52 hospitals with maxed out intensive care unit capacities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to insist he will not institute a state-wide mask mandate, saying he trusts Floridians to make “the right decisions,” even with the evidence that “widespread noncompliance” with coronavirus guidelines led the state to shut down reopened bars and restaurants last month. 

Our Governor’s “make the right decisions” statement is the latest sidestepping maneuver by a politician seeking to maintain favor with his conservative base and perhaps to perform to an audience of one, namely Donald Trump, who campaigned enthusiastically for DeSantis’ election. 

Were all those people crowding into bars and nightclubs and attending massive private house parties in recent weeks making “the right decisions?” If they had been, they would have stayed home and not passed along the virus to friends, co-workers family members and each other.

As a result of inaction at the state level, a patchwork of local ordinances is taking shape. For example, the city of Bradenton is joining other local governments, including the city of Sarasota, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, in issuing a mask ordinance. Starting Friday, July 17, businesses will be required to display signage encouraging the public to wear masks.

However, although business owners that don’t post signage are subject to a warning and potentially a $75 fine, the ordinance does not mandate that they enforce mask-wearing: “Nothing contained herein shall be construed to mandate the wearing of face coverings nor require the owner or operator of any business establishment to mandate or otherwise enforce the wearing of face coverings,” the order says.

On July 8, Florida Sen. Linda Stewart became the latest to publicly criticize the lack of a statewide order as “irresponsible,” joining calls from thousands of Florida physicians, the state’s agriculture commissioner and progressive policy groups for an immediate mandate.

Face masks remain highly unpopular in parts of Florida where local mandates have sparked lawsuits and anti-mask protests on the basis that these requirements infringe upon personal freedoms. 

Florida Republican state lawmaker Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who has filed numerous lawsuits to prevent mask mandates in his state, told CNN's Brianna Keilar that his state is “doing just fine” despite data showing Florida is the new epicenter of the coronavirus. 

He also told Keilar and her viewers that he doesn’t bother to wear a mask when he’s in public because maintaining social distance is enough.

A dereliction of duty

This failure to enforce face coverings is just the fractured and dysfunctional approach you get when you ignore the science-based advice of public health officials and allow political partisans to call the shots.

As if this wasn’t absurd enough, DeSantis is pushing forward the Trump administration’s directive to fully open schools for the fall semester. The pretzel logic of politics demands, after all, that if we can open up the Wal-Mart and Home Depot, then we certainly can open up the schools. Sure, because your kids and mine normally spend around seven hours each day in a big box retail store.

And come election day, will Floridians be allowed to cast their votes by mail, or will we see another, even larger, version of the scene played out in Wisconsin’s primary election – the long lines of people standing out in the weather for hours and risking their health just to exercise their right to vote.

I have often said Florida is around 47thin everything except politics and bullshit. The state’s failed response to the coronavirus pandemic has finally made the Sunshine State Number One in something. Congratulations, Florida. You’re finally a leader.

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