Florida is now facing one of the country's worst COVID-19 caseloads.
Virginia's Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent months as a model for COVID-19 mitigation efforts, specifically lauding DeSantis' decision to reopen his state and ban mask-wearing requirements — even in places where large swaths of the population are ineligible for vaccines.
Youngkin has made multiple public comments about his desire to model Virginia's response to the pandemic after Florida's, despite the fact that the latter is currently facing one of the worst COVID-19 spikes in the country.
As recently as Aug. 6, as COVID-19 cases in Florida were surging, Youngkin told right-wing radio host John Fredericks that he supported DeSantis' continued decision to ban mask wearing requirements in businesses and schools.
"Glenn, if you become governor, would you take a page out of the census book in Florida?" Fredericks asked, specifically referring to DeSantis' threat to cut funding from schools that required face coverings.
"Yeah, I believe this should not be mask mandates in Virginia," Youngkin replied. "I think these are decisions that should be up to individuals."
At a May 5 event with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, Youngkin also praised DeSantis' record on school openings during the pandemic.
"I had this great conversation about a month ago with Gov. DeSantis. He's pretty special," Youngkin said.
I said to him, "Governor, your schools have been open five days a week since August." And he didn't miss a beat. He said, "Glenn, we have not missed a day. And when you're governor, you're going have to do the same thing I did." I said, "What's that, sir?" And he said, "You call up those teacher unions, you demand they go back to work. And then you remind him what Ronald Reagan said to the air traffic controllers, 'Go to work or you're fired.'"
During a separate March 17 appearance on right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt's program, Youngkin repeated that Reagan reference, saying,
Why are our schools closed when we've actually seen schools in Florida open since last August? I was talking to Gov. DeSantis about 10 days ago and I asked them, I said Governor, how did you get your schools open? And he said "I told them to open. And then I reminded them all what happened when the air traffic controllers didn't go back to work with Ronald Reagan." You got to go back to work folks. It's best for our kids.
In an April 13 interview with Breitbart News Daily, Youngkin once again praised DeSantis' overall leadership through the pandemic.
"I think sometimes governors forget that they need to point out what's right and wrong," Youngkin said. "...You watch Ron DeSantis stand up and say what's right and what's wrong. And I deeply respect him for that."
As of Tuesday, Florida and Louisiana had reported the nation's worst COVID-related hospitalization rates, according to data from the New York Times. At least 127 out of every 100,000 residents in Florida currently has COVID-19.
The surge has created immense stress on hospitals in the state, which, for the time being, say they are doing their best to manage the situation while also treating non-COVID patients. The vast majority of COVID patients, they add, are unvaccinated.
Despite this, DeSantis has dug in on his decision to ban vaccination and mask requirements, even threatening to cut funding to school districts who require face coverings.
School districts are now openly defying his ban on masks mandates. And DeSantis temporarily lost a court battle with a cruise line that wants to implement vaccination requirements for passengers, with a federal judge ruling that a law DeSantis signed prohibiting vaccination requirements has "no public benefit from the continued enforcement."
Youngkin is running for Virginia governor against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who served as in the role previously from 2014 to 2018. The Republican nominee is hoping to buck the trend of Virginia voters electing Democrats to statewide office.
The two men will face off in November.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.