Don’t press our luck, governor

There are 232,718 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida as of Thursday, an increase of 8,935 cases from the day before.

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

Got a second, Gov. Ron DeSantis? Good. There are two words I’ve been meaning to say to you: dumb luck.

If you or anyone else asked me how Florida kept its number of COVID cases relatively low at the beginning of this pandemic, that’s probably the response I’d give. Just…luck.

It sure wasn’t through any real decisive action on your part, as you were one of the holdouts when it came to shutting things down here for our safety. Remember how our state was shamed by national media as pictures of Clearwater Beach — packed with worry-free sunbathers and partying spring breakers — flashed on TV screens across the country?

I’m sure all those watching in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, or anywhere muttered a collective, “What the #$@!” when they saw us blatantly disregarding the dangerous pandemic toward the end of March.

And even though you wanted to squeeze one last weekend out of it and keep beaches open during this dangerous month, you finally buckled under the enormous pressure (and let’s not forget shame) and agreed sheepishly that it was best if we shut them down. A shelter-in-place lockdown followed as we all did our part to stifle the virus’s spread.

But this inactivity was terrible for us, you thought. After all, we’re not New York. The big bad virus is not so horrible here; you must have reasoned, as you openly suggested children return to school.

You explained that little ones aren’t really susceptible to this killer virus, so why not? (Would it have done any good to remind you that a functioning place of learning needs adults — teachers, principals, office personnel, cafeteria workers, nurses, custodians, etc. — and first graders could hardly be expected to teach, feed and discipline themselves?)

Although the kids never did return to school, your impatience at the lockdown was evident, and after a time you deemed sufficient, you promptly skipped over most of the CDC guidelines and reopened our state. (I’m not singling you out here, as pretty much no state truly complied with those guidelines).

In time all the beaches, shops, restaurants, and bars were hopping, just as if the pandemic had magically disappeared. You even went on TV bragging how Florida was in a good place. Conservative, opinionated hosts on Fox News slapped you on the back, lauding you for having done everything right. Our state was held up as a model of having successfully prevented the virus from spreading or even upsetting our lives. You ranted at one point during an impromptu interview on May 20, calling out your naysayers who predicted that Florida cases would spike due to our reckless behavior.

“You got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks,” you said, shaking your finger at the news crew interviewing you in Orlando, “about how Florida was going to be just like New York. Wait two weeks, Florida’s going to be next…well, hell, we’re eight weeks away from that, and it hasn’t happened!”

Does it truly matter at this point that it took a little more time for us to get there? We were on the path, but as long as the numbers didn’t skyrocket, we looked good, you thought. Remember how that young female scientist who ran the state’s coronavirus information dashboard was fired because she refused to manipulate the data? She claimed the Florida Department of Health was attempting to hide from public view the actual case numbers in May, and it’s a safe bet that this was done to ensure a quick economic reopening.

This, too, happened on your watch. And even now, in July, your grip on the official state report of cases and county by county hospitalizations is treated like a dirty secret you try to hide at all costs.

But there is no hope to magically manipulate the numbers now, as cases have exploded across the state faster than we can count. It took us over three months to get to 100,000 cases. And then, Mr. Governor, it took us only two weeks to double that.

And your response? You acrobatically twisted yourself into a pretzel trying to explain the astronomical rise, while at the same time playing down any real threat. It’s obvious you took a cue from our president as you summoned all your skills of deflection and diversion.

One day you insisted that migrant workers were to blame in our state’s sudden misfortune with this pandemic. Another day you sang a different song, claiming that increased testing among young people is the cause of all these cases, and therefore none of us have anything to really fear, as the young folk will get over their sniffles and quickly. And recently, you griped that all incoming hospital patients, regardless of why they were being admitted, were tested for coronavirus, so naturally, we see an uptick.

Do you need to be reminded that testing doesn’t create cases out of thin air, but merely identifies the many that already exist? Do we have to spell out that even if younger people are more apt to get over COVID, it’s imperative they take steps not to infect people of all ages around them, some of whom could die from contracting this virus? And for the love of God, does anyone really need to beat you over the head with a ventilator before you mandate that residents of Florida wear a mask in these days?!

We are at a full-blown state of emergency here, with ICU units rapidly filling up in hospitals across the state. If this grim trend holds, it is only a matter of time before doctors must make some painful decisions on which suffering patients get access to beds and ventilators–and which must go without.

Enough is enough, and downplaying this catastrophe is not the answer. We need an organized, statewide system for testing and tracing. We need to go back into temporary lockdown mode if we hope to achieve this. I realize that’s the last thing you want — and for that matter, this may be unappetizing for a lot of residents — but there is no hope to corral the virus here unless we do it and do it right this time.

If New York can see cases overrun its healthcare centers, then adopt a strict lockdown, slowly come out of that lockdown with baby steps, and ultimately beat down the virus, then there’s hope for every single state in our union. Even Florida, which has emerged as the new epicenter.

But the very least we can do is wear a mask, and I mean this in the literal sense–it is the absolute LEAST we can physically do. They are proven to greatly diminish the spread, yet you have left it to the individual cities and counties to put mask mandates in effect.

True, many communities have stepped up — the Mask Up! St. Pete campaign here is only one example — but you have shied away from issuing a statewide mask ordinance, stating vaguely that individuals should be counted on to do the right thing.

I don’t know what your view from the window of the governor’s mansion is like, but throughout the state, we see too many people not taking the pandemic seriously by refusing to wear a mask–a piece of fabric worn temporarily across the face that could very well save a life. A mandate at this point is essential, and even a public service announcement or two would do untold amounts of good. If you want, stress that we’re not obligated to strap these things on for the rest of our natural-born lives –we just need to do our part to get through a raging pandemic!

I understand that you don’t want to rock the red state boat, so you mimic whatever President Trump does and says, like a kid trying to emulate his cool, older brother. But Trump is no model here. This self-proclaimed “wartime” president has retreated so far from this fight against the virus that you can only find him in his bunker of denial these days.

Of course, you’ll have no trouble locating him when the Republican National Convention rolls into town in August. If they go through with it, Trump and his gang of Republicans will descend on Jacksonville next month at your behest to hold a super spreader event. With mass congregations like this, which are sure to add weight to our state’s virus woes and possibly break the back of our healthcare system, it will be impossible for us to climb back into a semblance of normal living any time soon.

It is clear you’re doing what you think is best for your political agenda, but somewhere along the way, I implore you to exhibit compassion for your fellow Floridians. Now it may not be fair to upend the entire box of blame on your doorstep, as some hardheads will do what they want no matter what–mask mandate, lockdown, compulsory testing or not. But look at the shape we find ourselves in, several months into the pandemic, and tell me we can’t be better than this. And you, Mr. Governor, should strive to be better. In fact, we need you to be.

We’re now betting with our lives that you’ll do the right thing and lead us through this. And we can no longer bank on dumb luck.

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