Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Two Floridas

Excellent editorial in The Miami Herald about the stark differences between reality and the governor’s wishful thinking.

There are two different realities in Florida.

In the governor’s mansion and the state Capitol, Florida has beat the COVID-19 pandemic. The real problem is Dr. Anthony Fauci and mask mandates, not the eye-popping spike in new cases over the past weeks.

In the rest of the state, especially in hot spots like Miami-Dade County, hospitals are seeing a surge of patients. Florida accounts for 20 percent of all new coronavirus infections in the nation, with the more transmissible delta variant finding vulnerable people, mostly those who did not get vaccinated.

In this clash of realities, those of us in these hotspots are left with little to combat the virus. That’s because, in May, Gov. DeSantis suspended all local COVID-19 restrictions and signed a law making it virtually impossible for cities and counties to enact new ones.

When that happened, the Herald Editorial Board proclaimed that by tying the hands of local officials, DeSantis and the Legislature were telling communities “tough luck.”

In the following weeks, it looked like maybe we overreacted.

Vaccines became widely available, and we learned more about how highly effective they are at preventing serious illness. The number of cases dropped. “Delta” was nothing more than the name of an airline or the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet. People quickly dropped wearing masks indoors — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that is OK as long as you are fully vaccinated. Local governments relaxed restrictions.

This was meant to be our summer of freedom.

Turns out, we didn’t overreact.

The state now has the fourth-highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the country (Almost all hospitalizations and deaths have been among unvaccinated people nationally, according to the CDC). Immunizations have slowed, which was expected as more people got their shots but millions of Floridians who are eligible have chosen not to get vaccinated out of fear, ideology, misinformation, complacency or lack of access.

When asked on Monday what he planned to do to get more shots in the arms of Floridians, DeSantis blamed “quote-unquote experts” for distrust of vaccinations and “misinformation and a lot of bad advice that’s been given by some of these experts over the last year,” the Sun Sentinel reported.

DeSantis’ response does nothing to help communities fighting rising infections and only makes certain groups more wary of health authorities.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told ABC News over the weekend that “it’s very reasonable” for places with low vaccination rates and a rising number of cases to adopt “more mitigation measures” such as the mask mandate that Los Angeles County, California, reinstated over the weekend. He added that wouldn’t be “contradictory to the guidance the CDC issued” on masks.

It seems reasonable to allow Miami Beach to control the size of crowds at local nightclubs and bars or for the county to reconsider a mask mandate and social-distancing measures if we continue to see cases surge.

But “tough luck” — that’s not going to happen.

The law DeSantis signed in May, SB 2006, gives him the authority to invalidate a local emergency order that “unnecessarily restricts individual rights or liberties.” The governor’s campaign has been selling T-shirts and drink koozies emblazoned with “Don’t Fauci my Florida” — there’s not doubt he would exercise that authority with gusto.

Miami-Dade’s case rate jumped to 242 per 100,000 people last week from 150 the week before, and test positivity grew from 5.4 percent to 7.4 percent despite the county having the largest percentage of people who have received at least one vaccine dose (75 percent).

Experts suspect groups with low immunization rates, such as younger people, are behind this surge. But knowing that for sure is hard because the state isn’t releasing county-by-county demographic information on vaccinations. The state also stopped classifying deaths by county, releasing hospital data and reporting coronavirus numbers on a daily basis, switching to weekly reports. That made it harder to get a real picture of the pandemic, but perhaps that’s the intention. Burying Florida’s COVID-19 stats is the governor’s MO, as it was throughout 2020.

So, if anyone asks, Florida has beat the virus.

Sure, more than 38,000 Floridians have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

But let’s just call that a footnote.

There are two reasons why Gov. DeSantis wants to promote the idea that the pandemic is just a footnote. The second is because if people are told we’re a plague state, they won’t come and spend money at the resorts, theme parks, bars, and other tourist destinations. But the first is because he wants to basically replace TFG in the minds of the Republican party base as the tough guy who fended off the panty-waist hand-wringers from the CDC and run in 2024; if not as president, then as TFG’s running mate because Mike Pence is a wuss and a traitor. So he’s going to go around the state and the country like the mayor of the seaside town in “Jaws,” saying everything is fine, nothing to worry about, come on down.  And vote for me.

But as I noted the other day, the target of this killing machine seems pointed at the very people who would follow him.  Tough luck for them.

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