Florida’s COVID-19 response has been described as reckless, dangerous, and anti-science.
Its Republican governor weathered months of scorn for loosening pandemic restrictions ahead of other state leaders. Its case counts, when on the rise, are often cited by critics as evidence that the entire Republican approach to managing the virus has failed.
But drops in Florida’s case counts invite a fraction of the attention.
DESANTIS POPULARITY IS CLEAR IN RISING NUMBER OF WEAK MEDIA HIT PIECES
New infections per 100,000 residents dropped to 12 over the past week, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker. Over the past 14 days, cases dropped by 48%.
Other states with far more expansive pandemic restrictions are seeing COVID-19 continue to spread at faster rates than Florida.
In New York, for example, the rate of new cases is more than double that of Florida’s at 25 per 100,000 residents over the past week.
In Washington state, the rate of new infections per 100,000 residents was at 31 during the past week.
Critics have vilified Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for a pandemic response that deviated early from what other states did to limit transmission. He allowed businesses to resume operations with some limits in early May 2020, just two months after the virus shuttered virtually the entire country, and by September of last year had lifted all restrictions and began efforts to limit new ones that local governments could impose.
J. Edwin Benton, a political science professor at the University of South Florida who cast doubt on the veracity of Florida’s current numbers, suggested DeSantis’ political ambitions have likely driven both his pandemic-related decisions and the intense attention paid to them.
“It’s a right-wing approach, and it’s just a page out of Trump’s playbook,” Benton told the Washington Examiner. “He’s doing it to mimic what Trump would still be doing and did do prior to being voted out of office.”
Other Republican governors who ditched restrictions early or have so far resisted pressure to require vaccination have faced much less heat for pursuing the same kind of policies as DeSantis; Benton said that’s because “they aren’t running for president” like Florida’s chief executive.
Few of the more dramatic predictions about the result of DeSantis’ approach have come to pass.
In the spring, low case counts and low unemployment earned DeSantis some positive media coverage and a limited amount of praise.
But the seeming success of his refusal to mandate masks, social-distancing measures, and, ultimately, vaccines did not silence many of his more vocal critics, who continued to sound the alarm over the summer of DeSantis’ push to reopen schools fully without any masking requirements in the classroom.
That changed in August and September when the highly contagious delta variant drove a deadly wave of new infections that hit Florida, with its high population of elderly residents, especially hard.
The spike in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths attracted widespread national coverage and a fresh round of criticism aimed at DeSantis, who was at that point not just declining to implement pandemic-related mandates statewide but actively attempting to stop any Florida entity from adopting them on their own.
Florida’s apparent emergence from that wave and return to a transmission rate lower than its neighbors and much of the country has warranted little reevaluation of the narrative surrounding DeSantis’ stewardship of the state.
While Florida’s summer surge in cases was viewed in media coverage and political commentary through the lens of DeSantis’ leadership, the state’s current COVID-19 decline has been framed as a product of trends affecting all states — when it’s warranted coverage at all.
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In Washington state, with nearly three times the number of new COVID-19 infections this past week than Florida, state employees faced a deadline Monday to take the vaccine or lose their jobs.
Some sectors of New York, including healthcare workers and New York City school personnel, have also faced vaccine mandates that so far have not brought COVID-19 infections down to the level currently seen in Florida.