Putting ‘politics in front of lives’: DeSantis faces criticism over Florida’s Covid-19 response

But the Floridians who rely on Ron DeSantis and his government do not realize that the pandemic is still a serious threat.

The Florida Department of Health barely mentioned Covid-19 on social media for months, and the silence was broken only this week to celebrate the arrival of the first vaccines. DeSantis has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic after President Donald Trump condemned the collusive regulations and trade restrictions. According to CNN interviews with more than a dozen Florida officials and experts, the governor prevented local governments from taking their own measures to protect the public from the coronavirus and sidetracked health experts, even as he promoted questionable science, according to CNN interviews with more than a dozen Florida officials and experts.

Two Florida Department of Health officials told CNN that the agency’s former director of communications told them at the end of September not to focus on Covid-19 in their public communications. They said they thought their jobs would be threatened if they withdrew.

We put politics first, said a health official, who asked not to be appointed to prevent reprisals. We are shackled and prevented from properly informing the public so that they can make informed decisions to protect their lives and those of others.

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Governors have become key figures in the US response to the coronavirus pandemic, with each Head of State’s decisions largely influencing the policies of their states. As the number of cases across the country increased, even some Republican governors who had previously opposed masked mandates or social distance rules changed course: GOP leaders in Iowa, North Dakota, Alabama and elsewhere are setting new boundaries as their states expand.

To date, DeSantis has refused to do so this fall, and its policy has continued to spread misinformation about the pandemic, as investigations by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and other state media have already revealed. To the frustration of local civic leaders on both sides, cities and counties continue to ban mummy laws or impose stricter capacity restrictions on shops and restaurants.

I stopped talking to the governor some time ago, said Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, a registered Republican who said his calls and letters to DeSantis asking for more flexibility went unanswered for months. It’s a big city here, but I feel like sometimes we’re left alone.

The DeSantis office did not answer CNN’s questions about how the state is handling the pandemic and did not make the Governor available for interviews, and the Department of Health did not respond to repeated requests for comments. In public remarks, Mr DeSantis argued that the State’s response is aimed at protecting the elderly and vulnerable while keeping the companies open.

Today, more than 1.1 million Floridians test positive for Covid-19, about 5% of the state’s population. According to Johns Hopkins University, Florida is the 26th state. State in terms of confirmed cases per capita, putting it at the centre of the country. On Thursday, the state reported the highest number of new daily cases since July.

Some parts of the state have been hit harder than others: Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest urban center, has the highest percentage of confirmed coronavirus cases per capita among the 50 most populous counties in the United States, according to an analysis of CNN data found by Johns Hopkins.

As a close ally of President Trump, DeSantis seems to have modelled his approach to the pandemic on the president’s denial strategy. And in one major state, some observers see the Governor’s reluctance to announce bad news months before the election as a political gift to Trump.

I think this governor is absolutely following what the president says and does, and I think he thinks it will help him get elected, St. Peter said it’s really remarkable, the lack of leadership.

Health officials say they were instructed not to talk about Covid.

Unlike many other states, the districts of Florida do not have their own independent medical facilities. District health services are rather local branches of the state agency, financed by a mix of state and district revenues.

This means that the Ministry of Health – and ultimately DeSantis – has even more direct authority to develop public health messages and respond to pandemics affecting the state.

Two health ministry officials who told CNN that they felt compelled to share information with the public, said Alberto Moscoso, the former director of public affairs, had asked the provincial press offices not to focus on Covid-19 during a conference call at the end of September. Instead, he encouraged them to engage in blue sky messaging, a public relations tactic that highlights good news to distract attention from crises.

The department’s Twitter feed is an excellent example of how this messaging strategy works. In the first months of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health had a strong presence in the social media: Between March and August, the ministry sent an average of 139 tweets per month, including the words coronavirus, covid or pandemic – more than four tweets per day.

But that changed radically after the signing of the decree that opened the Florida finals on the 25th. September. Since that day, the Ministry of Health has sent almost no tweets mentioning the virus. Instead, she published reports on topics such as the dangers of flood infections, the importance of hearing screening of newborns for hearing loss, and suggestions for safe thawing of turkeys.

The Twitter account did not mention the daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths – although the retweet did include several tweets from DeSantis about upcoming vaccinations, as well as a photo and a link to a Covid 19 safety note.

The drought caused by the Covid reports continued until the state triumphantly announced this week that the first doses of the Covid 19 vaccine had been administered.

The department’s Facebook page has experienced a similar shortage of Covid messages in recent months. And the main page of the ministry’s website promoted the Diabetes Awareness and Influenza Vaccine Month, while the message about Covid was relegated to a small banner at the top of the page, according to the latest images captured by the Internet’s time machine.

Caught between orders from the central office and providing accurate information during the biggest public health crisis in a generation, the two health professionals told CNN that they felt they were walking a fine line.

It’s difficult, but achievable, said an official from the Ministry of Health. I sometimes ask partner organisations to use my messages or to obtain them through expert interviews…. We all find different ways to get around the rules.

Another public health worker said it was disappointing to hear the misinformation that the pandemic went viral and was unable to respond with facts.

We could have saved many more lives if we had been allowed to do our job, the official said.

Other employees of the county health department insisted that they had not met state guidelines that prevented them from talking about Covid, or said it made sense for state officials to draw up standardized messages.

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I’ve never felt challenged or pressured about what information we can share with the public about Covid, said Melissa Watts, public information officer for the Pasco County office of the state department of Health. There was no interaction about what we could or could not tweet. I shared all the information I deemed appropriate to do my job.

The governments of the states and provinces have consistently released information and data on Covid in recent months. The Ministry of Health issues a daily press release on the latest virus figures and also updates an online dashboard with various statistics and maps on the pandemic.

Moscoso, the communications manager who, according to two employees, made a joke about Covid, left the department on 6 November and did not respond to requests for comments. The Sun-Sentinel also reported allegations from health workers that the former director of public information muzzled them.

DeSantis and the Ministry of Health did not answer CNN’s questions about the officials’ statements. The governor’s spokesman, Fred Piccolo, told the Sun-Sentinel that reports on prevention and COVID-19 have reached saturation point. He said Floridians are already doing everything they can to stop the spread of the virus.

But the experts were surprised by the lack of Covid reports from the ministry. Dr Marissa Levine, professor of public health at the University of South Florida and former health commissioner of Virginia, described the situation as very worrying.

Denial may be our biggest problem, Levin said. This really is an important moment to send a consistent and coherent message to all media.

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Delays in reporting coronavirus deaths in Florida have also raised questions about the state’s transparency about the severity of the pandemic prior to election day.

There is often a time difference between a person’s death from Covid-19 and their death in Florida’s public statistics. But from late October to mid-November there was a significant drop in the number of reported deaths, more than a month earlier. This is according to the American health professor Jason Salemi, a trend first reported by the Sun-Sentinel.

For much of the autumn, the state reported dozens or hundreds of these deaths every week. But between the 24th. October and the 7th. In November, the state reported a total of four deaths that occurred more than a month ago.

The decrease in the number of deaths is not due to the fact that the state caught up: it reported dozens of deaths per month in the week following election day and in the weeks that followed. The temporary recession gave a rosier picture of the Florida pandemic when voters went to the polls.

It is unclear whether there is a political motivation for these changes and the Ministry of Health has not answered questions about the data. The 21st. In October, a few days before the backlog started, the agency said it would look into Covid’s death reports to make sure they were caused by the virus. This change in procedures may have led to a drop in data, Mr Salemi said.

Maybe they spend more time on a few deaths, Salemi told CNN. To me, it’s a bit of a black box.

DeSantis prevents the mayor from imposing stricter rules

During the pandemic, DeSantis followed in Trump’s footsteps by criticizing measures to slow the spread of the virus, such as B. Mask requirements and restrictions in restaurants and bars. And when things got complicated this fall, he refused to allow the cities to impose stricter rules than the state, leaving the local mayors defenceless.

A CNN review of DeSantis’ public comments on Covid over the past nine months showed that he was quick to comment on the vaccines or treatments, but slow to talk about the growth of the disease or methods to slow its spread.

Almost from the beginning of the crisis, DeSantis has denounced what he described as draconian and arbitrary restrictions that have nothing to do with public health services in other states of the country. In an interview with Fox News in mid-May, he said that part of this situation is socially out of control and absolutely out of control.

At a press conference on the 20th. In May, he practically declared victory over the virus by comparing Florida to New York and bragging that our mortality rate is lower than that of the Acela, D.C. corridor above…… We did, and I guess people just don’t want to admit it.

The next month, however, things started to skyrocket. While DeSantis urged Floridians to follow the guidelines of social distance, he nevertheless found ways to minimize the virus, pointing out that the pandemic mainly affected young Floridians, who had a much lower mortality rate than their parents and grandparents. And he repeated Dr. Trump’s approach, attributing the growing number of cases to more tests and the use of untested drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.

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In mid-July, the number of daily cases of Covida’s disease reached a record high of 15,300 and the number of hospital admissions increased sharply. Hospitals in Miami-Dade County, the epicenter of the crisis, had to convert ordinary beds into ICU beds. And DeSantis had to face reality – he sent nurses and health workers to Miami-Dade and other provinces to care for the sick.

Following the drop in the number of cases in August and September, DeSantis announced on 25 September that it would enter a third phase of reopening – removing all government restrictions on businesses, prohibiting local authorities from imposing fines and limiting the ability of local authorities to restrict the capacity of restaurants and bars. Every company has the right to operate, he said at a press conference. You can’t say no after six months and ignore people.

Today, two and a half months after the reopening, the number of cases and hospitalizations has risen again, with an average of 10,000 this week – not far from the average of seven days in mid-July. This time, however, DeSantis is determined to reject the new state mandates and block local authorities.

There will be no closures, fines or school closures in Florida, DeSantis said on the 30th. November – a few days before the state registers the highest number of daily incidents in more than four months. Nobody loses their job because of a government decision, he said. Nobody loses their livelihood or their business. This is absolutely non-negotiable.

Local mayors told CNN that a lack of autonomy in determining their own policies on issues ranging from masks to alcohol restrictions compromises their ability to respond effectively to the pandemic.

Hernandez, the mayor of Hialeah, said that if he wants to keep the case open, he should use his common sense. According to the DeSantis regulation, the city can punish companies, but not individuals who break the rules.

In the summer, people wore masks in public places because they knew they could get a fine, Hernandez said. But now, he says, some people walk around in public without covering their faces because they know the government can’t force them to wear a mask.

I think that’s why the numbers are going up, Hernandez said.

Mayors also said they were stunned at the lack of communication from the governor and his office, which they said did not even meet their requests to discuss the new policy.

The announcement from the governor’s office was awful from the start, said Crisman, the mayor of St. He stated that DeSantis’ order to reopen the state, as well as his comments condemning the restrictions, gave the public the general impression that masks were no longer necessary, that social distance was no longer necessary. DeSantis’ approach has led to more cases, he said.

However, state political observers say that DeSantis is unlikely to pay a political price for its treatment of the coronavirus. Previously, the recent Trump victory in Sunshine State suggests that DeSantis’ message has been effective, said Steve Vancore, a Florida political researcher and consultant who has worked with candidates and groups from both parties.

On election day, President Vancourt was not negative about his treatment of the coronavirus, and he added that the president’s victory of three percentage points was as much a victory for DeSantis as it was for Trump.

Expertsfelt the spirit of DeSantis.

During the pandemic, DeSantis followed the president on another point: the experts he listens to. DeSantis has surrounded himself with commentators who deny or downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, even if his administration sidelines experts inside and outside the state government.

In August, DeSantis organized a series of events with Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist from California who was an advisor to Trump, in which Atlas discussed the governor’s approach to the pandemic, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Atlas, who lobbied for a herd immunity strategy that was criticized by most leading health experts, was denounced by his own Stanford University colleagues and resigned from his White House post earlier this month.

And in a particularly questionable lease decision, the DeSantis board hired a former sports blogger from Ohio and an Uber director who had put forward conspiracy theories about the virus as a data analyst with a portfolio that included work on Covid-19.

In tweets and sports blogposts, Kyle Lamb has already argued that masks and locks don’t work, that Covid-19 is no more deadly than the flu and that the pandemic could be part of the Chinese biovar. He joined the Office of State Policy and Budget last month, as reported in the Tampa Bay Times.

Lam refused to comment on that story. A DeSantis spokesman told the Times that he would not work exclusively on pandemic cases and that his work would be judged by other employees.

Meanwhile, the most visible voices of the state government issuing early pandemic warnings seem to have disappeared from public view. Dr. Scott Rivkis of the Florida Surgeon largely avoided public statements after suggesting at a press conference in April that the practice of social distancing could continue for another year. Rivkis did not respond to a request for an interview.

And the department is also reluctant to share its extensive data on the distribution of covid in the state. In the early stages of the pandemic, the Miami Herald and other state media had to threaten to sue the state before publishing data on cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Recently, the Orlando Sentinel indicted the governor this month after his office failed to provide the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s report on Florida.

Senior scientists at the University of Florida School of Medicine told CNN that deans of private and public medical schools asked the Department of Health to share additional data earlier this year so the schools could provide the state government with advanced statistical modeling at no cost to help officials better understand the spread of Covid-19.

During the first conference call, Department of Health officials were receptive to the idea, said Thomas Unnash, an infectious disease expert at AAB. But soon there was a bureaucratic obstacle: The Department of Health told the group that they would only have access to the data if they submitted a separate request for each modeling project that the scientists wanted to do, Unnash said.

The department’s reaction was mainly a slow march, Unnash said. It was fine, thank you, but we’re not really interested in working with you.

It was like a ghost after a date, he said.

The partnership projects quickly failed. If the Department of Health opened its data to experts, the professors said, they could determine whether Floridians have been diagnosed across the state, identify gaps in the data and help improve them, and conduct advanced mapping of the spread of the virus.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, AAB’s senior associate dean for health policy and practice, told CNN that he expected the agency would be happy to get help in bringing the numbers down. He said he didn’t understand why the department was reluctant to work with experts.

The pandemic was like a tidal wave coming down on us, Wolfson said, and instead of rushing to the top, we were told to swim.

Scott Glover, Ashley Fantz, Benjamin Naughton and Yahya Abu-Ghazala of CNN contributed to this report.

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