At any time in the last year you could have asked any statistics nerd following the pandemic numbers and they would have nearly all agreed that the least trustworthy numbers are the ones being reported from Florida, courtesy of ideologically-driven crackpot Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has welcomed the pandemic into his state and is responsible for thousands of needless deaths, not just in Florida but throughout the country.
Yesterday, Florida reported 5,062 new cases, bringing the state's total to 2,052,441-- 515,132 of which are currently active. Florida has 95,561 cases per million Floridians, which is very high. The state also reported 96 new deaths yesterday, bringing that grim total to 33,366 total COVID deaths. Reporting for Yahoo News yesterday, Alexander Nazaryan wrote that "New research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health argues that Florida is undercounting the number of people who died from COVID-19 by thousands of cases, casting new doubt on claims that Gov. Ron DeSantis navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully." The researchers wrote that "The impact of the pandemic in Florida is significantly greater than the official COVID-19 data suggest."
DeSantis has boasted-- and conservatives have eagerly echoed those boasts-- that he has handled the pandemic better than any other governor and implies he should be reelected next year and be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. His critics, wrote Nazaryan, say that many of the 33,000 deaths "would have been prevented if he had listened more diligently to health experts. DeSantis resisted lockdowns, downplayed masks and has made it increasingly difficult for localities to institute public health measures of their own. And the state could be on the cusp of a new coronavirus surge." And that 33,000 deaths is probably over 40,000 deaths.
In the case of Florida, the researchers say, 4,924 excess deaths should have been counted as resulting from COVID-19 but for the most part were ruled as having been caused by something else, thus lowering Florida’s coronavirus fatality count. That’s possible because people who die from COVID-19 often have comorbidities, such as diabetes and asthma. That leaves some discretion for medical examiners, who have sometimes struggled with conflicting science and been subject to political pressures during the pandemic.
In Florida, the state’s 25 district medical examiners are directly appointed by the governor. Last spring, the DeSantis administration was accused of trying to keep those medical examiners from releasing complete coronavirus data. (In August, the state said coronavirus deaths no longer required certification from a medical examiner.)
“I am sure that COVID-19 is responsible for most of these excess deaths,” says Moosa Tatar, a public health economist at the University of Utah who led the research team looking at Florida’s excess deaths. He said he chose to focus on Florida because of how quickly the governor lifted restrictions there. That move was widely criticized as reckless, though some believe that he has been vindicated by the fact that states where lockdowns persisted in the spring and fall did not necessarily have better outcomes than Florida.
Likely 2022 U.S. Senate candidate, Alan Grayson, is no fan of Gov. DeSantis, with whom he served in Congress several years ago. This morning, Grayson noted, in regard to DeSantis crumbling record on the pandemic, that "Keeping people alive and safe: that’s a basic function of government, everywhere on Planet Earth. It’s the government’s part of the 'social contract.' DeSantis tore up that social contract, and spit on it. He encouraged dangerous, irresponsible COVID-spreading behavior all year long, and then he literally buried the evidence."
This morning, Vanity Fair's Bess Levin wrote that "If you found yourself in Florida at any point in the last 12 months and change, you might have felt like you stepped into a portal to an alternative universe. Last spring, when other parts of the country were already in full-fledged lockdowns, the Sunshine State resisted such measures, not issuing stay-at-home orders until weeks after the World Health Organization had officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At no point did Florida impose a statewide mask mandate, and in September, Governor Ron DeSantis banned local officials from enforcing their own orders. The state reopened well before most of the nation and, earlier this month, DeSantis 'rolled out the red carpet for visitors,' in particular the millions of spring breakers who descended on the area. All of that might lead one to believe that things are just peachy down South, and that somehow Florida had avoided the virus entirely. Of course, that’s not actually the case at all." She noted that "in the last week, the number of variant cases doubled to 2,330, while the overall number of new cases has been rising steadily."
Coincidentally, last year, Florida agents raided the home of former state data scientist Rebekah Jones, who helped to create the state’s COVID-19 dashboard before she was fired. According to Jones, who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Department of Health several months prior, she had refused to comply with requests to manipulate data to bolster the claim that Florida had a handle on the pandemic. Law enforcement entered her home with guns drawn and, Jones said at the time, pointed them at her and her children.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office claimed that Jones was fired for “exhibit[ing] a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.” A search warrant to enter her home was authorized on the basis of a complaint by the Department of Health that a person had “hacked” into their emergency alert system to urge people to speak out about Florida’s coronavirus strategies, though in reality staffers at the Florida Department of Health all used the same username and password to log into the system, information that was available on the department’s public website. (Jones, who launched her own online dashboard of Florida coronavirus data after being fired, told CNN she hadn’t improperly accessed any state messaging system.) “They took my phone and the computer I use every day to post the case numbers in Florida, and school cases for the entire country,” she said after the raid. “They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”