“Welcome to the oasis of freedom!” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared at the opening of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. “Florida got it right, and the lockdown states got it wrong!”
Indeed, it did.
Florida has lower per-capita COVID-19 mortality than the national average and lower than 27 other states, including tightly lockdown California, despite having more senior citizens. Its unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Florida offers more in-person education than any other state, and it leads the nation in vaccinating those older than 65 years old. And its budget remains in good shape, with Mr. DeSantis declaring he hasn’t had to use a penny in Florida’s rainy-day fund to cover for pandemic-related expenses.
Yet, Mr. DeSantis, a rising star in the Republican Party, was vilified by the mainstream media throughout last year for following his own path battling the coronavirus epidemic and not subscribing to herd mentality — which required mandatory masking, and school and business lockdowns indefinitely.
Not to say Florida didn’t shut down — it did for the necessary 15 days to slow the spread. After a few weeks working to stockpile its medical supplies and increasing hospital capacity, Mr. DeSantis worked to quickly reopen — knowing the mental and economic devastation prolonged lockdowns could cause.
In mid-April, Mr. DeSantis opened up the states beaches. Critics were quick to say the move would lead to a massive death count and widespread COVID-19 contagion. It didn’t. Florida’s COVID-19 numbers remained steady after a peak in mid-July.
When the so-called experts said hospitals should discharge elderly coronavirus patients to nursing homes in the spring of last year, Mr. DeSantis refused.
“I think we’re going to have enough hospital space,” he said at the time.
Florida did, and thus avoided the needless elderly deaths that transpired in New York under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s watch.
Over the summer, Mr. DeSantis was accused of cooking the books, of reporting COVID-19 numbers too good to be true; meanwhile, Mr. Cuomo, who was being lauded in the press, was doing exactly that.
As the New York Post pointed out: “Even if Florida is somehow hiding numbers, bodies are harder to stash.” The bodies have yet to appear.
This fall, as more states were shuttering due to a coronavirus resurgence, Mr. DeSantis pushed to open the state’s schools and businesses.
As a result, Florida has more schools open to in-person learning than the rest of the country, and Florida’s economy is rebounding, despite a lag in tourism.
The Sunshine State now ranks No. 2 in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed college-caliber Advanced Placement exams, behind only Connecticut, according to data released this week by the College Board.
Yet, the press is still looking to disparage Mr. DeSantis. This week, it was on his vaccination roll-out. Florida has decided on a one-step-at-a-time approach to allow for flexibility and adaptation, which critics say is haphazard. Mr. DeSantis has also pledged to give priority to senior citizens — the most vulnerable COVID-19 population — which detractors say focuses only on wealthy and white populations.
But Mr. DeSantis’ plan has worked. Florida has vaccinated 2,792,118 people to date, with more than half of those people receiving both doses. More than 2 million elderly Floridians have already been immunized, with the state leading the nation in vaccinating senior citizens 65 and older.
“We are in an oasis of freedom in a nation that’s suffering from the yoke of oppressive lockdowns,’’ Mr. DeSantis told the CPAC crowd gathered in Orlando on Friday. “We look around in other parts of our country, and in far too many places, we see schools closed, businesses shuttered, and lives destroyed. And while so many governors over the last year kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up.”
Instead of criticizing Mr. DeSantis’ COVID-19 leadership, other states should be following it.