Florida Cooked The COVID-19 Books, Now State Is Up In Flames


During his extended cry for help with Chis Wallace last week, Donald Trump talked a little about COVID-19 and admitted that the situation is not-so-sunny in Florida.

TRUMP: I say flames, we'll put out the flames ... And we'll put out in some cases just burning embers. We also have burning embers. We have embers and we do have flames. Florida became more flame like, but it's — it's going to be under control.

Although none of that made actual sense — the fact that Dr. Deborah Birx popularized the West Wing mindset that coronavirus is over except for "embers," and apparently used the word so much it's the only one Trump knows anymore like Garp saying GARP, does not make it actually make sense — it's true that Florida is a big flaming mess. Governor Ron DeSantis has bungled the coronavirus response and now cases are surging out of control. There are at least 369,826 confirmed cases and 5,205 have died so far.

DeSantis started reopening Florida, which arguably was never fully “closed," in May. The seven-day average for cases was under 700. Now it's about 11,000, which is more. It's easy to dismiss DeSantis as a bumbling fool. I mean, just look at him. But there's compelling evidence that the governor's actions haven't just been stupid and negligent but calculated and sinister.

Fired Scientist Launches Portal Showing More Coronavirus Deaths & Cases Than Florida Reports | MSNBC www.youtube.com

Last Thursday, Rebekah Jones filed a whistleblower complaint against the Florida Health Department. Jones, the state's former top coronavirus data chief, accused the agency of firing her because she wouldn't fix the numbers so Florida could reopen after a full half hour or so of quarantine.

Her complaint aims a smoking gun at DeSantis:

"These efforts to falsify the numbers are a pattern and practice in Florida government that goes on to this day," Jones' Tallahassee attorney, Rick Johnson, said in a statement. "(Gov.) Ron DeSantis has routinely given false numbers to the press. His underlings at (the Health Department) follow his example and his direction."

Jones maintains that DeSantis wanted the "state's public-facing website to show that the percentage of positive tests over two weeks were below 10 percent even if the numbers were higher." When she refused, she was fired. That seems like prima facie evidence of bad intent, doesn't it?

It's also hard to claim that Jones was incompetent. Her work on Florida's dashboard, which she created, received nationwide praise. DeSantis insists she was fired because "she didn't listen to the people who were her superiors." The governor's statement concedes that the issue wasn't her job performance, but her refusal to comply with orders, which Jones contends were unethical.

(Jones maintains her own, accurate account of COVID-19 numbers in Florida at FloridaCOVIDAction.com.)

DeSantis might not have set the “embers" and/or raging inferno in Florida, but he let it spread, perhaps even — by, say, reopening Disney World — dropped lighter fluid and painters rags on it. He took multiple victory laps early on and rightwing media joined him. Barely a couple days after DeSantis reopened Florida, the National Review ran a piece by Rich Lowry asking “Where Does Ron DeSantis Go To Get His Apology?" I doubt any apologies are forthcoming — maybe just subpoenas — but one place he should consider going now is the Villages in Central Florida, one of America's largest retirement communities. During a visit in April, DeSantis gloated over the numbers there.

From the New York Times:

"There were articles written saying, 'Oh, the Villages is going to crash and burn,'" [DeSantis] said. "They have like a 2 percent or 2.5 percent infection rate."

The Villages is home to about 120,000 people, most of whom are 55 and older and only a few of whom shout, “White power!" Until mid-June, confirmed COVID-19 cases were under 100, but during the past few weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations from the Villages have quadrupled. The infection rate is now 9 percent.

Now many residents are confronting their new reality. "It's seeping in, no matter what," Rob Hannon, 64, said as he sipped a beer, adding that "friends that would come down for years are saying, 'We're not going to go.'"

The golf course is still crowded, he said, as well as the hair salon where his wife, Michelle, 53, works. "The women are still coming in but they're a little more anxious," Mr. Hannon said. "You can't stop living. But you can stop being cavalier."

No, you can literally “stop living." That's the whole problem.

According to Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade County's public hospital, 18 percent of its coronavirus patients were 80 or older. That demo accounted for just 9 percent of patients two weeks earlier. Infectious-disease specialist Dr. Madiha Syed attributes the rise in cases among older Floridians to young people who won't wear masks. Not all Villages residents wear masks, either, and many crowd bars "where songs by Elvis Presley and Bobby Sherman play."

DeSantis has rejected state Democrats' pleas to close down the state for real this time, even just temporarily. He even refuses to issue a statewide mask mandate, because he insists on representing the worst impulses of his constituency. Some idiots recently hosted an anti-mask event at an Orlando-area restaurant and offered free meals to 100 people who declined to wear masks. That's putting your money where your mouth should be covered.


[CNN / Palm Beach Post / New York Times / Newsweek]

Stephen Robinson on Twitter.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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