Florida Republicans do nothing as COVID surges across the state

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Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused any statewide safety rules even as cases rise.

Florida has seen a massive spike in COVID-19 cases in the last week, but the state's Republican-controlled government is showing zero interest in curbing it.

Forty-nine states have so far implemented at least some significant safety restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Florida is the lone exception.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued no mask mandate and is allowing restaurants and bars to operate at full capacity.

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In recent days, DeSantis has drawn criticism for appearing in public only on rare occasions. A spokesperson told Politico that the Republican was busy preparing for the state's legislative session, which does not begin until March.

His office told a local news station on Monday that, despite a recent White House report putting Florida in the "red zone" for coronavirus cases, no stay-at-home order would be implemented. "The Governor will not lockdown and hurt families who can't afford to shelter in place for 6 weeks. Especially not for a virus that has a 99.8% survival rate," a spokesperson said.

Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health, told the same outlet that Florida's "overall trends are really, very ugly," and that a mask mandate was essential to changing that.

"The models we are running are predicting we will see a massive increase in the number of cases," he said. "It's going to continue to grow like a rocket."

On Monday, the leaders of the Republican state legislative majority made it clear that they had no plans to do anything to address the coronavirus either.

"I think we’re going into an elevated level of COVID in the next few weeks, and it’s going to continue to elevate as we have more community spread," state Senate President Wilton Simpson told the press. But he explained that the Legislature's only role will be to "review what has happened in the last eight months."

State House Speaker Chris Sprowls agreed, saying that much of the upcoming legislative session "will be spent on dealing with the fallout of the virus and modernizing our laws and our plans to ensure that we are prepared for future pandemics."

Florida has seen about 900,000 coronavirus cases to date, including nearly 7,500 on Tuesday. More than 17,600 Floridians have died.

Five Florida mayors were set to hold a press conference on Wednesday to beg DeSantis to change his laissez faire approach to the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, DeSantis has repeatedly refused to take decisive action to slow the virus' spread.

During a brief shutdown earlier this year, he exempted professional wrestling as an "essential" business.

He refused to close gyms because he believed people using them were "in good shape." And he blatantly ignored federal guidelines to rush to reopen the entire state, even as the number of cases was growing.

DeSantis has also encouraged people to "give a hug" to older relatives during the pandemic, contrary to public health experts' social distancing recommendations.

In July, a Palm Beach Post editorial called DeSantis's handling of the crisis a "massive fail."

"Once again, Florida is a national laughingstock. But this time, the joke is literally a sick one. And our governor is a special recipient of scorn and ridicule. We want him to do better, for all our sake," the paper's editorial board wrote.

"But embarrassing to say, all the swipes — from late-night host Stephen Colbert to headline writers everywhere — are completely deserved."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.