Being the governor of Florida is, well, a big job. That’s true anytime – Florida is the third most populous state in the country with more than 21 million residents – but especially so in the midst of a global pandemic.
Unfortunately for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the fight against coronavirus has exposed the fact that he may simply not be up to this moment in history.
The latest evidence of that came Thursday, when DeSantis sought to explain his thinking about potentially re-opening schools in the state. (So far 19 states have closed schools for the year.) Here’s what DeSantis said:
“This particular pandemic is one where, I don’t think nationwide there’s been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn’t seem to threaten, you know, kids.
“And we lose in Florida between five and 10 kids a year for the flu. This one, for whatever reason, much more dangerous if you’re 65 and plus than the flu, no doubt about that, if you’re younger it just hasn’t had an impact. So that should factor into how we’re viewing this.
“I think the data on that has been 100% consistent. I’ve not seen any deviation on that.”
That is, of course, wrong. According to the CDC, four people between the ages of 15 and 24 and one person between the ages of one and four have died. (CNN has also reported that a newborn died in Connecticut on April 1, and a baby in Illinois who passed away in March whose death is being looked into as the possible result of the coronavirus.)
Which is bad. The governor of ANY state shouldn’t be making statements like “the data has been 100% consistent” if he, uh, doesn’t know that with 100% accuracy. Plus, in Florida, there are 1,200 cases of coronavirus in the 15-24 age cohort – roughly 7% of the total of 16,826 cases in the state. (Data is from the Florida Health Department.)
What’s worse is that DeSantis appears to not know that the reason that schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic is not because the virus is killing kids in big numbers but rather that children are demonstrated carriers and vectors of the illness to adults. A kid might get coronavirus and have mild (or no) symptoms at all. But they could pass it to a teacher, a parent or another adult who gets much, much sicker. And that adult could then pass coronavirus to more people. And on and on we go.
I know these facts about the transmission of coronavirus not because I am a world famous epidemiologist (sorry Mom!), but because I have done some very basic reading on what scientists know about the disease and how it spreads. That the governor of Florida knows less than I do about the transmissibility of the disease is concerning.
And this isn’t the first time DeSantis has shown himself to be woefully underprepared during the course of this pandemic.
He faced widespread criticism for delegating decision-making on whether to shutter business and beaches to local officials as the coronavirus began to spread rapidly in Florida and across the country. The Miami Herald wrote an editorial on March 22 blasting DeSantis as a “timid leader in the face of the growing scourge.”
When DeSantis did finally issue a stay-at-home order – on April 1 – he cited an odd reason for his change of heart. “When you see the President up there and his demeanor the last couple of days, that’s not necessarily how he always is,” DeSantis explained. So, President Donald Trump’s more somber “demeanor” at one coronavirus task force briefing was the thing that flipped the switch for DeSantis? Okey dokey.
(DeSantis owes Trump – bigly – for his current political perch. Trump’s decision to endorse him in a contested GOP primary in 2018 turned the former House member into a heavy favorite. And Trump’s campaigning for DeSantis in the general election clearly helped pull him across the finish line.)
Moments like this one are clarifying. When a fearful and anxious public turns to its government for guidance and leadership, there’s nowhere for people like the governor of a state to hide from the massive responsibility. You either step up to meet the moments – Govs. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Andy Beshear (D-Kentucky) to name two – or you shrink in the face of them. DeSantis is a glaring example of the latter.