Barely one month in the past, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis was on a victory lap. The state’s common price of latest Covid-19 infections was the bottom within the nation, and a lapdog legislature was about to sign into law his sweeping new coronavirus measures, together with the outlawing of masks and vaccine mandates in pursuit of “placing a blow for freedom”.
There was no point out of the 61,500 Floridians who’ve misplaced their lives to the virus.
Now, with the extremely transmissible Omicron variant gaining a foothold within the US and likely already present in Florida, docs say, the robustness of the governor’s controversial steps could possibly be about to obtain a primary actual take a look at.
And whereas well being consultants and DeSantis’s political opponents agree it’s quickly to know precisely how the state could possibly be affected by any unfold of the variant, they’re nervous. The rigidity of the DeSantis anti-mandate legal guidelines, together with the removing of native authorities’ energy to enact neighborhood safety measures based mostly on situations in their very own areas, they are saying, may permit Omicron to flow into at a quicker price than it in any other case may.
Evan Jenne, co-leader of the Democratic minority within the Florida home of representatives, accused DeSantis of becoming Florida with “concrete sneakers”.
“Originally of the pandemic a number of free rein was given to native governments, as a result of they have been those with boots on the bottom, they have been those seeing what was occurring and lots of people have been saved an premature loss of life due to actions of native governments,” he mentioned.
“By hamstringing them, by placing their palms behind their again and lacing up concrete sneakers, it’s simply going to make it that rather more troublesome. When you have got a authorities the scale of Florida’s, masking 22 million individuals, it’s going to be much less nimble and fewer agile than the smaller, native governments and our native well being departments.
“Having an government department take all of that authority and energy away from them is simply not going to be a great transfer for public well being into the long run.”
Jenne and his Democratic colleagues have been vocal opponents of the measures, however outnumbered by Republicans virtually two to 1 throughout final month’s particular legislative session convened by DeSantis, a Donald Trump protege who’s tipped for a presidential run in 2024.
Because the summer season, a interval through which his state recorded its highest coronavirus loss of life charges because the begin of the pandemic, DeSantis has additionally battled with and fined school districts and local authorities over vaccine and masks mandates, provided $5,000 payments to unvaccinated police officers to work in Florida, and appointed the tendentious Dr Joseph Ladapo, a fellow skeptic of vaccine and masks mandates, as Florida’s new surgeon normal.
“If Donald Trump says I’m not working to be president once more, Ron DeSantis would be the Republican nominee for president with out query, and a number of the stuff that you just’re seeing him doing is buoying that concept and reaching out to his base and a specific section of society that loves these items,” Jenne mentioned.
“Politically, I believe it’s a smart transfer. For public well being I believe it’s harmful.”
Different elected officers, healthcare professionals and fogeys have additionally accused the governor of placing politics ahead of science.
The notoriously prickly DeSantis, in the meantime, continues to current himself as a defender of the Florida financial system, and residents’ freedoms in opposition to the perceived tyranny of the Biden administration’s efforts to implement nationwide mandates or lockdowns.
At a press convention this week defending the brand new legal guidelines, the governor was requested in regards to the Omicron variant, and lashed out at a well-known goal: what he sees as “company media” controlling the dialog round Covid-19.
“We aren’t, in Florida, going to permit any media-driven hysteria to do something to infringe individuals’s particular person freedoms relating to any kind of Covid variants,” DeSantis said, earlier than turning his consideration to Biden and the chief White Home medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, a familiar sparring partner.
“In Florida, we is not going to allow them to lock you down,” he mentioned. “We is not going to allow them to take your jobs, we is not going to allow them to hurt your companies, we is not going to allow them to shut your faculties.”
Jay Wolfson, distinguished professor of public well being, drugs and pharmacy, and affiliate vice-president for well being regulation on the College of South Florida, sees little prospect of DeSantis backing down if Omicron takes maintain within the state.
“I don’t anticipate the governor nor the Florida legislature are going to alter their place, except, God forbid, the loss of life price will increase,” he mentioned. “Individuals will get sick, the hospitals may get crowded, however except persons are dying, it’s unlikely that the insurance policies are going to alter.”
Wolfson famous that with DeSantis’s measures now enshrined in regulation, moderately than government orders that may extra simply be challenged, there seems little urge for food to defy him. All of the Florida school districts that when carried out strict masks mandates for college students and workers have now terminated them, though many mentioned it was as a result of classroom coronavirus circumstances have fallen.
In the meantime Disney, one of many state’s largest employers, dropped its requirement for solid members to be vaccinated.
“There’s no exemption for venues the place there’s the next threat of contact, equivalent to theme parks, or a hospital, so that you’re creating an setting the place it’s more and more possible that unvaccinated individuals will probably be uncovered and get sick, and other people whose vaccinations have declined efficacy could possibly be uncovered to these individuals and others and so they may get sick,” Wolfson mentioned.
“However we simply don’t know but to what diploma the Omicron variant is each extra contagious and extra virulent. We’re rolling the cube.”