Nate Monroe: Welcome to Florida, where there is definitely no public health emergency

Nate Monroe
Florida Times-Union

COMMENTARY | The view from Florida's hot zone in late July: Chad Nielsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, says city hospitals are "bursting at the seams" with COVID-19 patients, running out of space, out of manpower and low on morale. Mobeen Rathore, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, says Tuesday marked a high point in the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Sunil Joshi, head of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, says it's time for the state to declare a public health emergency. Mayor Lenny Curry announces Jacksonville Fire and Rescue is now helping an overwhelmed Clay County to the south respond to emergency calls. 

And there is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, mugging for the camera at Two Meatballs restaurant in Southwest Florida. "Great food and welcoming environment!"

In the protective confines of his Greek Revival mansion, DeSantis, Florida's late Romanov, is comforted by sycophants whispering good tidings from the front lines. His anger is not directed at the disease sweeping his state, but at the bearers of bad news who try to refocus his attention on the enormous human toll from a war Florida is losing badly. DeSantis' consideration is not for the patients intubated, the health care workers inundated, the lives extinguished, but for his personal glory and the after-hours appearances on Fox News that are necessary to nurture it.

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The staggering 38,600 Floridians who have lost their lives — much like the many former staffers who have crossed him — are simply airbrushed out of the story he tells his followers, and perhaps even tells himself.

DeSantis' allies demand credit for his half-hearted endorsement of miraculous vaccines, even as he spent more than a year making common-cause with fraudsters, tricksters and worse who have tried to discredit the very experts, institutions and science that delivered the vaccines in the first place.

He was too proud to get the shot in public, like his Republican and Democratic peers did to set an example for others. He gave a platform to and even hired a stew of cranks who believe COVID is overblown. At the urging of quacks, he took bizarre steps, like stockpiling hydroxychloroquine, a drug with no benefits for COVID-19 patients and for which the state now has no use. He hoped to fundraise off jokes printed on koozies at the expense of national health experts.

But you should totally get the vaccine.

This grotesque opportunism and mealy-mouthed dissembling gave permission to the misguided to forgo the vaccine entirely, helping to create the sweltering petri dish in which Floridians now find themselves trapped. 

DeSantis wants public health without the crucial "public" part — the part that asks people to consider those around them and not just their own fleeting convenience.

It's no wonder Florida lags the national average in vaccinations and accounts for one in every five COVID-19 infections in the United States.

As the illusion of a post-pandemic world set in, DeSantis clawed back the data on infections and deaths the state had previously been reporting daily. Information on ICU capacity in hospitals across the state, once easily accessible, disappeared. And now that the data, even in diminished form, shows an irrefutable reality — Florida is getting hammered by a virus he thought had been vanquished — DeSantis simply retorts that case counts no longer matter.

To those concerned about his approach, the governor's spokesperson quipped that Floridians should simply lose weight to bolster their protection against the disease. 

There are no signs recent events have chastened Florida's Romanov. To stroke his ego, and possibly to assuage his feelings of self-doubt, DeSantis snuck into a private "roundtable" discussion this week — his office issued no media advisory on the event — with a motley crew of court jesters who asserted mask mandates are tantamount to "child abuse." Never mind that his own state public health officer — who has been as visible as a ghost during the pandemic — once endorsed the rather intuitive science behind mask wearing. DeSantis, in fact, once employed the very lockdown measures he now routinely denounces. But pay no mind; that's just one more thing to airbrush out of the sepia-tinted picture.

DeSantis' negligence and selfishness have put more pressure than ever on local officials whose cities are straining beneath the weight of sickness and death, even as he has tied their hands. In Florida, communities no longer get to decide the conditions under which they feel the safest, or how to best protect children. No, Darwinism for all: No public health mandates; no proof of vaccine necessary; masks are optional but preferably non-existent. May the strongest among you survive. This is paradise after all, where there is definitely no emergency.

Come on in, the water's fine.

Nate Monroe's City column appears every Thursday and Sunday.