A new investigation revealed that Florida's governor concealed key information about the coronavirus.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' response to the coronavirus crisis has involved suppressing facts, spreading misinformation, and denying science, among other actions that defied public health and safety.
A new investigation from the Florida Sun-Sentinel released last week revealed troubling findings on DeSantis, who is overseeing a state that has reported 1.06 million COVID-19 cases and 19,000 deaths at the time of publication.
The resulting report revealed a damning pattern of mismanagement by DeSantis and his administration reaching back to the beginning of the pandemic, adding to his already poor track record. Here are 13 ways the Florida governor botched his state's coronavirus response.
1. No more public statements
Around two months ahead of the Nov. 3 election, spokespersons at the county level of the Florida Department of Health were ordered to halt public statements, including social media posts and news releases on the virus, until after Election Day, the Sun-Sentinel's investigation found.
They were instead asked to discuss other health topics, such as flu shots or hearing loss screenings, sources from the health department told the Sun-Sentinel.
A senior health department official anonymously told the paper that the orders were "all part of the top-down control of messaging from the governor's office."
2. Conceal and deny
Despite evidence that the coronavirus was spreading from person-to-person (community spread) in early March, the DeSantis administration denied its existence and concealed critical details about the first suspected cases in the state, according to the investigation.
3. Withhold information
The investigation's findings also revealed that the DeSantis administration withheld information about infections in schools, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes. But legal action taken by family members, advocacy groups, and journalists eventually forced him to produce reports on the facilities.
Attorney Mark Caramanica, who represented media outlets in the state, slammed DeSantis's actions, telling the paper: "The media and public should not have to rely on engaging attorneys to get this information. ... The Department of Health should be as proactive as they can about giving out the data and allowing people to make informed choices."
4. Ignore public health experts
The DeSantis administration sidelined many of his state's medical experts on infectious diseases. They had advocated for COVID-19 approaches that were conventional but didn't necessarily support the governor's policies, which favored fewer restrictions. It's a move that Dr. Glenn Morris, who directs the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, called a "tragedy" in many ways.
"Unfortunately, they're not drawing on the best science, they're drawing on political needs," the doctor was quoted saying in the investigation.
For instance, Dr. Scott Rivkees, a Florida surgeon who runs the state's department of health, was "pulled off of the dais by the governor's team" in April after saying social distancing could be needed well into 2021, Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith told the paper.
"That leaves the public with the perception that our state surgeon general is being muzzled by the governor," he added.
Instead, DeSantis surrounded himself with a select group of advisers who backed his positions, the paper noted. In August, he invited former Trump virus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, who has no medical expertise in infectious diseases, to tour Florida with him. Atlas had publicly doubted the efficacy of masks and pushed for the reopening of states.
5. Spread misinformation
As the Sun-Sentinel found, the governor’s chief spokesman, Fred Piccolo Jr., routinely posted misleading tweets and misinformation about the coronavirus on the social media platform. As an example, he tweeted that COVID-19 was less deadly than the flu, an patently false claim Donald Trump also previously pushed, but researchers have said COVID-19 is more deadly, the investigation noted.
6. Paint a different picture
DeSantis strove to point out statistics and figures that would paint what the Sun-Sentinel called "the rosiest picture possible" about the disease. He additionally tried to sow doubt about the state’s increasing number of virus deaths, with his administration pushing for "blue sky" messaging to distract from any bad news about the virus, according to the investigation.
7. Deny science
Even now, DeSantis continues to publicly question science. When speaking to a group of donors and executives in Orlando last Thursday, he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's studies on the coronavirus outbreak "ridiculous," according to Politico, citing a recording of his speech the outlet obtained. DeSantis then reportedly added that the studies from the CDC were less about science and more to reinforce the "bureaucrats"' positions.
On the issue of contact tracing, DeSantis claimed in the same speech that most people become infected in their homes, the Politico report said. He also doubted medical authorities' ability to find the source for infections.
8. Don't implement safety rules
Despite virus cases surging in his state, he has still not issued a statewide mask mandate. A University of Washington health metrics institute that tracks COVID-19 mandates across the United States found that Florida is the only state that has not imposed at least some significant safety restriction. The Sunshine State is also one of 13 that has not implemented a statewide masking order.
9. Hire an anti-science person
Last month, DeSantis hired Kyle Lamb, a sports blogger who has an anti-science, anti-mask bias, to compile data on the coronavirus in Florida. As the Washington Post noted, he does not have any experience in public health, epidemiology, or data analysis. He has also admitted that he is "not an 'expert.'"
10. Lift safety restrictions
In September, DeSantis lifted restrictions on businesses across the state amid rising virus cases, allowing them to operate at full capacity. The decision went against the CDC's safety guidelines.
11. Hug grandma
In August, DeSantis urged people to physically embrace the elderly amid a raging pandemic, which also goes against the CDC's social distancing guidelines.
"Look, I'm comfortable with the PPE," he said. "Hell, hug 'em! I mean, come on."
12. Let people go to the gym
In July, the Republican governor refrained from closing gyms due to COVID-19, even though they are considered high risk, because people who go there are "in good shape."
13. Embrace spring breakers
In April, he refused to ban spring breakers in the state, saying that he wasn't aware that kids could contract the virus.
"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," he said at the time.
However, the CDC reported that at least five people under 25 years old in the United States have died of COVID-19.
DeSantis's office, meanwhile, has defended his pandemic response.
"As Pew Research showed, the messaging on prevention and COVID-19 has reached saturation," Piccolo told the Sun-Sentinel. "People are doing all they can to mitigate risk."
But as the paper noted, the poll Piccolo referred to only asked participants whether they've worn a face covering in the past month, and not about prevention messaging.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.