All the Ways Ron DeSantis has Failed Florida during COVID-19

On March 31, 2020 — with 6,741 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 85 dead in Florida — Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was waiting on the White House before issuing a statewide Stay-At-Home Executive Order. Not the epidemiologists advising the White House and Florida to shut down, mind you. But the one person in the White House who he cares about most, the man who chose him to be Governor — Donald Trump.

Ron DeSantis waiting on Donald Trump — some things never change.

This is a story about the many ways Governor DeSantis has failed his first test as Governor of Florida, leading to far too much sickness and death, unnecessary delays in unemployment compensation and economic relief, and all kinds of awfulness. Hopefully, it’s also about how he can do better.

For background, none of this should be too shocking. In Congress, as a member of the “Freedom Caucus,” DeSantis voted to repeal Obamacare, and with it, price protections for people with pre-existing conditions — going as far as telling cancer patients to “show up to the emergency room.” And as Governor, he’s blocked Medicaid Expansion, which has led to an estimated 2,776 deaths since 2014.

His disregard for the health of Floridians became glaringly obvious and awful on March 19, 2020 — with more than 18,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all fifty states and the same day California issued a statewide shelter-in-place order — DeSantis gave the Speaker of the Florida House a bat. On that bat, he wrote, “slayer of the healthcare industrial complex.”

And they laughed.

These laughs were about Speaker Jose Oliva (who recently tweeted a Medium post banned for misinformation), in concert with previous Speakers, blocking a version of Medicaid Expansion that passed the Republican—controlled Florida Senate 33–3. Followed by many years of reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates and funding for rural and children’s hospitals to virtually the lowest per capita in the nation.

This tone-deafness during a national pandemic is the same kind of tone-deafness that secured Ron DeSantis the Republican nomination in 2018 and endeared him to Donald Trump. It appears that’s kind of who he is.

He says dumb things. He doesn’t do much of anything.

Let’s go through it.

Florida’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on February 29, 2020. However, instead of informing the public — when every second mattered— DeSantis instead planned a press conference on March 2, 2020.

Floridians learned about the first two cases on March 1, 2020 through the news, which forced DeSantis to confirm it.

On March 13, 2020 the same day the Florida’s Commissioner of Education announced statewide school closures, Governor DeSantis refused to close Florida beaches to discourage Spring breakers from spreading COVID-19 to each other, other states, and Florida’s massive 65+ population especially vulnerable to the disease. That inaction set our whole country back.

On, March 19, 2020, even after viral images and videos of all the Spring breakers doing what Spring breakers do, he said he wouldn’t close Florida beaches statewide. Instead, he left it to local governments.

More on local governments in a moment.

This led to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida and member of the Florida Cabinet— calling on DeSantis to issue a statewide Stay-At-Home-Order on March 20, 2020.

A call DeSantis not only ignored, but led him six days later, on March 26, 2020, to cancel a meeting of the Florida Cabinet, despite pleadings from lawmakers like Rep. Ben Diamond for an emergency meeting of the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, DeSantis continued to blame Florida’s cases on New York flights and New Yorkers that he apparently made up.

On March 25, 2020, from the Office of the Governor, DeSantis touted an alcohol-free hand sanitizer that isn’t approved to work against COVID-19.

Finally, on April 1, 2020 — after nearly 7,000 cases and 87 deaths in Florida— with the heat of the national media all over him, DeSantis issued a Stay-At-Home Executive Order. The reason, he said, was because President Trump announced an extension of federal social distancing guidelines.

Guidelines that had been in place since February 28, 2020.

However late, it was the right call. But of course, he messed that up, too. Because he signed another Executive Order, in secrecy and unbeknownst to anyone until the Tampa Bay Times reported on it. That order says his first order “supersede(s) any conflicting official action” by local officials.

It caused immediate confusion and rebuke from local government officials who had done everything they could in the absence of statewide leadership, leading to scenes like these on Florida beaches.

DeSantis later clarified his new statewide order was the “minimum.

Speaking of minimum, hundreds of thousands of Floridians, many minimum wage employees, have lost their jobs during the first few weeks of this outbreak. And up until a few days ago, DeSantis did the absolute minimum to help them, including ignoring a 2019 audit of the unemployment website showing more than 600 errors that prevent more than a few people on the website at a time and not “plugging in” the backup system.

This failure was massive, widespread, and painful for hundreds of thousands of Floridians, including one of my own family members.

When the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas asked him about it on April 1, 2020, DeSantis told her to talk to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

That’s an agency he oversees.

On April 7, 2020, this failure led to one of the most damning scenes of the DeSantis Administration — hundreds of Floridians waiting in lines, desperate for paper unemployment claim forms to help them afford the food, shelter, medicine, and necessities they need to stay healthy and live.

The website may end up costing Florida taxpayers almost $200 million.

On that same day, April 7, 2020, instead of doing his job with facts and experts and action, DeSantis also began pitching an untested “miracle” drug touted by President Trump — hydroxychloroquine.

Then on April 8, 2020, in images shared around the world, DeSantis created the perfect metaphor for his almost comically irresponsible response to COVID-19. Nobody has an explanation for it.

And if that wasn’t enough to lose the confidence of Floridians, on April 10, 2020, DeSantis called an education meeting to discuss re-opening schools.

There, in one of the dumbest moments in the history of Florida politics, DeSantis claimed “this particular pandemic is one where I don’t think nationwide, there’s been a single fatality under 25. For some reason, it just doesn’t seem to threaten kids.”

This is demonstrably untrue.

Watch the video.

Now, I don’t want to be unfair to Governor DeSantis. Managing any national or statewide emergency is difficult.

And he’s done some good things ahead of President Trump, like making acquiring personal protective equipment a number one priority on March 18, 2020, calling for suspending domestic air travel on March 15, 2020, and suspending evictions after lawmaker requests on April 2, 2020.

But as I pointed out on MSNBC on March 29, 2020, Florida has a long history of quality, smart, clear emergency response, dating back many governors, including Governor Jeb Bush. And DeSantis should be doing much better.

It requires clarity.

It requires foresight.

And it requires a good deal of humility — leaning on scientists and experts.

What it doesn’t require —ever— is waiting on Donald Trump.

And that’s what DeSantis has to decide right now — is he okay continuing to be the Vice-Governor with a President most Americans don’t trust?

Or, will he shed his kingmaker and do what’s right for the state?

We’ll see.

I hope he does. I live in Florida. My first job in state government was working on a pandemic influenza grant with the Florida Department of Health. I know how bad this can get and I obviously want all of it to go away forever.

I don’t plan on updating this post, so share it today.

In the meantime, wash your hands and stay home.

Kevin Cate is the founder of CATECOMM and an advisor and ad maker for progressive candidates and causes. His work in 2018 was called “nothing short of brilliant” by the Tallahassee Democrat, and he’s been called “perpetually newsmaking” by POLITICO, a “communications savant” by Florida Politics and a “multimedia wiz” by the Miami Herald.

Follow him on Twitter at Kevin Cate.

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