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Coronavirus in Florida

Ron DeSantis goes on a jeremiad in defense of coronavirus response tactics

DeSantis expresses second thoughts on closing schools, worries about mental health.

A few weeks into what could become a long and much deeper crisis, Gov. Ron DeSantis let loose in Orlando Wednesday with a freewheeling jeremiad on why he thinks across-the-state orders could be harmful. He also lamented the state having to deal with people coming from the coronavirus hot spot of New York.

Though the Governor closed schools and bars, restricted restaurants to take-out and recommended people avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible, DeSantis has taken a far more conservative approach to date than many other Governors. Many other states took many of those actions much earlier than he, and many have since gone much further. Seventeen have issued statewide stay-at-home orders.

DeSantis has increasingly been the target of calls and criticisms from others, for the most part Democrats, who want to see him take bolder, swifter statewide actions. On Wednesday he again dismissed those, saying Florida needs to target its efforts whenever possible.

And he even expressed skepticism about measures already taken, notably closing schools statewide.

Meanwhile, Florida’s caseload has more than doubled just this week, to 1,682 confirmed cases of COVID-19, about half of them in South Florida.

In Orlando, during the question-and-answer portion of a press conference highlighting the new drive-thru testing center being established, DeSantis let loose.

The Governor bemoaned the prospect that people from New York, perhaps the globe’s hottest zone for COVID-19 infections outside of Italy right now, are allowed to fly to Florida. Earlier this week he ordered them quarantined for 14 days.

He said areas like Central Florida do not need the attention or resources being sent to South Florida because the Orlando area is fortunate that it has so few cases, 77 at last count.

DeSantis said he is concerned about health care issues of people getting sick, but he stressed that he also has strong concerns about the mental health ramifications of people losing jobs, businesses closing, and people being stuck at home.

“The unemployment numbers in the state of Florida? You know, we’d get 200, 500, a thousand a day for most of the time up until this point. Now we’re getting 15 to 20,000 unemployment claims a day. What’s going to happen to those people? What’s going to happen to them if they can’t put food on the table, if they can’t pay their rent, or they can’t pay their bills, or take care of their families?” he asked.

“You’re going to see not only economic consequences from that, you are going to see a lot of public health consequences from that,” he continued. “I’m worried about the mental health impact of what’s happened. I’m worried about drug abuse, based on some of the dislocations. I’m worried about suicides. I’m worried about domestic violence. And I’m worried about child abuse. In any situation like that, all this stuff goes up. This is one of maybe the most significant situations people have faced.”

“And so, if they’re going to be put in with some of these policies, and yet the policies are ineffective because you have flights, people are on this, or that. You know, I think it doesn’t sit well with me, and I think it probably doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks in America,” DeSantis concluded.

He expressed concerns about second- and third-order consequences of decisions like closing schools, such as causing problems for health care workers who have to stay home to take care of children.

In fact, the Governor openly questioned the wisdom of closing the schools until April 15, saying the decision was made with input but no data. He said now there is no evidence to support the theory that closing the schools would slow the spread of the pandemic disease.

“I think there is a question about whether the school closures have been effective. There’s really no evidence and we kind of worked with our Commissioner of Education. Singapore, I don’t think Singapore closed their schools. And there’s no difference in how the virus spread in either of the countries based on that. There’s just not a lot of data that supports it,” DeSantis said. “So you need to look to say, ‘OK; if the schools are closed, then what stress does that put on the parents?”

However, during his 10 minutes or so of largely free-flowing observations during the press conference, DeSantis never explicitly mentioned any concerns of Floridians dying from the disease.

Nor did the Governor mention concerns about growth lines that show caseloads statewide and in metropolitan areas doubling every two or three or four days, or where some of the grimmer scenario projections suggest that those trend lines, if not radically checked, could lead to hundreds of thousands of serious cases, overwhelmed hospitals, and thousands of deaths in Florida.

In short, the Governor expressed a variety of frustrations about there being so little clear data indicating what to do, with the consequences of millions of people losing jobs, while different approaches are tried or advocated, yet with holes.

“You talk about these orders, about saying this, this. There really is no data to support it. It’s just people saying, ‘Do it!’ Wouldn’t it be nice to have more data so that we know exactly how this virus may be operating in some of those communities?” he implored.

“It does kind of make no sense,” DeSantis said of some of the measures being taken, and some of the ways people are responding.

“You’re telling people if you live in some random town somewhere that you must be imprisoned in your home. You know: ‘Don’t leave your home. Don’t do it!’ But yet people are riding the subway in New York City. People are flying all over the place from some of the hot zones,” he said. “I mean, really? How does that make any sense if we’re trying to contain this thing.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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