On Friday, Florida reported 17,093 new cases of COVID, highest-- as everyday for the last couple of months-- of any state in the U.S. Yesterday was worse-- 21,683, pushing Florida to a total of 2,636,066 cases or 122,735 cases per million residents. It was the highest-ever single-day increase in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. The worst previous day was in early January when the state hit 19,334 new one day cases.
Florida couldn't be doing worse if COVID-19 was paying Gov. Ron DeSantis to sacrifice the state to it. Yesterday's next 5 worst hit states combined had fewer new cases than what DeSantis gifted Florida. Florida's death rate is through the roof and worse than the next 9 states combined.
Are Floridians waking up to the fact that the state is living through the worst pandemic because they have the worst governor? Alan Grayson, the progressive candidate taking on Marco Rubio said, flatly, "No... Starting with Trump, the GOP has made every red state a 'No Accountability Zone.' They’re killing off their own voters by the thousands, and they just don’t care." DeSantis actually hopes to be reelected by running against coronavirus mitigation, which he thinks will also win him the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He has prohibited local governments and private businesses (except for his campaign donors at Disney) from requiring anyone to show proof of vaccination or to institute mask mandates-- and has told parents to ignore mask mandates from their children's schools.
Progressive congressional candidate Cindy Banyai, running against anti-mask, anti-vax sociopath Byron Donalds, noted that he is "not providing leadership. He is contributing to the mistrust and misunderstanding leading to this historically high COVID case count... After seeing the highest number cases of the pandemic," she told me last night, "it’s undeniable that COVID in Florida is out of control. I wish Floridians would acknowledge the seriousness of the virus. Sadly, DeSantis and other Republicans have politicized masks and vaccines to the peril of Floridians. I feel for the victims of the pandemic of the unvaccinated. Shame on the opportunist partisans that have led them astray."
Just under half of Florida's residents are fully vaccinated and the Florida Hospital Association says the state's hospitals are rapidly approaching the same peak levels they experienced last year.
On Friday, The Atlantic published an essay by David Graham, Delta Is Ruining the Summer, and It’s Anti-vaxxers’ Fault-- The vaccines promised freedom, but political opportunists have spoiled that. Graham wrote that "no single factor explains the stall-out [in vaccinations], but foremost among the culprits are partisan polarization and political opportunism. Many conservative media figures and Republican leaders have made resistance to vaccines and public-health guidance a point of pride and a political litmus test."
Tucker Carlson, likely the most prominent figure in conservative media today, has made his prime-time Fox News show into an almost nightly forum for raising doubts about the vaccines and COVID-fighting efforts more broadly. Elected Republicans such as Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have conducted an extensive misinformation campaign about vaccines and the disease. Others have recognized that there is political benefit in demagoguing against public-health officials-- such as Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and a presumptive 2024 presidential hopeful, who is hawking Don’t Fauci My Florida gear, even as hospitalizations in his state approach last summer’s peak.
This political dynamic does not fully account for America’s struggles. Public-health officials such as those at the CDC and Anthony Fauci have been sometimes clumsy in their messaging about the pandemic, sapping public trust. Vaccination rates among many minority groups, who tend to vote Democratic, lag behind rates for white Americans. But the fog of pandemic, barriers to access, gaps in the health-care system, and long-standing vaccine hesitancy among minority populations (often for understandable reasons) were predictable and predicted. What was unforeseen was the way that vaccinations would become so politicized-- though given the partisan battles last summer, perhaps this should have been expected too.
Although many Americans were hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines early on, few of those who have still not gotten shots are in wait-and-see mode. Instead, they are actively resistant or refusing. In a recent Associated Press–NORC poll, 45 percent of the unvaccinated said they “definitely” would not get vaccinated, and another 35 percent said they probably would not. Nearly two-thirds believe, incorrectly, that the vaccines do not provide protection against Delta. And the hard core of resistance is formed by white Republicans, Axios has reported-- while Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be persuadable. Vox notes a strong correlation between low vaccination rates and voting for Donald Trump in November.
Not all conservative leaders are culpable. Some of them have been encouraging people to get vaccinated from the start, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But their pleas have been drowned out by louder, more cynical, and more ignorant voices. Now with Delta rampaging through heavily Republican areas, some conservatives have begun coming around and making more forceful arguments for vaccination. Meanwhile, a growing number of vaccine mandates imposed by private employers, and by the government on public employees, may help push the vaccination rate higher.
But it’s too late. A person who gets a shot today won’t be fully inoculated for weeks-- which, as the difference between Biden’s July 4 and July 29 remarks shows, can be a huge gap in COVID-19 terms. Meanwhile, the push for mask wearing seems unlikely to be widely effective. Even Democratic governors such as Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Roy Cooper of North Carolina have said that they don’t intend to impose new mandates, instead nudging citizens to use their own judgment.
The United States will eventually come out of this wave of the coronavirus, but we don’t know what the costs-- in lives, money, mental health, and more-- will be. The bitter irony is that many conservative vaccine opponents and skeptics have framed their opposition in terms of the cost to Americans on freedom, yet the hesitancy they’ve fostered is already clawing back the freedom the country had just begun to enjoy.