Remember the dog days of summer, when there was near consensus in the media that Florida was led by a madman whose reckless Covid policies represented a grave threat to the nation? Those hyperbolic claims have been quietly shelved, now that the number of new Covid cases in Florida has plummeted from 151,748 for the week ending August 20 to 19,519 as of October 8, according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly Covid situation report.
According to the New York Times Covid Tracker, Florida now has the second-lowest per capita Covid rate of any state: 12 per 100,000, behind only Hawaii, with nine per 100,000 as of October 18. Florida’s vaccination rate (59 percent fully vaccinated) is now above the national average (57 percent.) I live in Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), which currently has a per capita Covid infection rate that’s lower than every county in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other blue states.
As media elites waxed indignant over Florida’s alleged Covid sins this summer, many couldn’t hide their see-we-told-you-so delight when the Delta plague hit our shores. The Left eviscerated Governor Ron DeSantis for his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates. Joy Behar of ABC’s The View called him a “homicidal sociopath” and a “dangerous criminal.” Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s “conservative” columnist, wrote that DeSantis’s conduct revealed a “breathtaking disdain for the well-being of his state.” Charles Blow of the New York Times wrote: “Yes, Florida, DeSantis is allowing you to choose death so that he can have a greater political life.” Writing for CNN, Columbia University economics professor Jeffrey Sachs declared that “Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have, through their policies, been effectively leading their citizens toward death.”
MSNBC host Joy Reid called DeSantis “Dr. Death” and “the grim reaper of the South,” who was “rolling out the red carpet for the virus,” and “rooting for the virus.” She asked one guest to explain what she characterized as DeSantis’s strategy of “killing children in (his) own state and letting children die of Covid.” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski called Florida’s governor “the DeSantis variant” and proclaimed him the new leader of a cult. “Almost all of these hospitalizations (and) deaths (in Florida) would have, and could have, been avoided if misguided Americans had not followed the crazed teachings of a growing death cult,” she said.
Salon picked up on the death cult theme in a piece roasting DeSantis with the headline, “The GOP’s death cult comes for the children.” The author, Sophia Tesfaye, claimed that DeSantis’s goal was to make public schools in the state “so unsafe and inhospitable that parents are forced to push their children into private schools.” The Daily Beast got in on the act with a plea headlined, “It’s Time to Put the Right-Wing Zombie Death Cult on Trial.” The author, Wajahat Ali, fantasized about putting DeSantis and other Republican governors on trial for “helping to actively kill people and harm children with their pro-death policies.”
While some liberals feared us Floridians as an unwashed horde of invading barbarians, others laughed at our misfortune. In an early September monologue, ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel said, “Of the 54,000 Americans who died from Covid since the start of the summer, almost one of five died in Florida, which, my God, all those orphaned ferrets, it’s a shame.” Kimmel faced no sanction from ABC because mocking dead Floridians is apparently still considered good sport on the coasts. Earlier in the summer, he had called Florida “America’s North Korea.” He and others fail to understand that since the start of the pandemic, Florida has, for many, become synonymous with freedom, representing a way of life and a state of mind as much as a physical place. The media deliberately mischaracterize DeSantis and others in the “disease-spreading, right-wing zombie death cult” that supports him as anti-mask and anti-vax, when in fact, we just want to be left alone.
People who have spent much of the last couple years living in fear resent Floridians’ freedom and are waiting for things to go badly here, as they did this summer. But the summer surge in Florida and across the South was predictable for mundane reasons. When the heat and humidity spikes, people retreat into air conditioning, where it’s easier to spread the virus. But as the temperatures have dipped in recent weeks, infection rates have plummeted across the South.
Meantime, the states whose Covid infection rates are now heading in the wrong direction are almost all in cooler-weather states run by Democrats, like Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Don’t expect the media to highlight this or question if the leaders of those states made bad policy choices.
The truth always finds a way to slip out, though. Florida’s second-quarter tourism arrivals were up 223 percent year over year, and the number of domestic visitors was up 6 percent over the record figures posted in 2019. (International arrivals were down substantially due to travel restrictions.) I’ve had several visitors from cold-weather states like New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, who expected to be stepping over bodies in the streets in my hometown of St. Petersburg but were pleasantly surprised by how normal life is here. At a time when the Left is having an authoritarian moment—pushing vaccine and mask mandates, demanding crackdowns on conservative speech, intimidating parents who criticize school boards, and branding anyone who disagrees with them bigoted or worse—Florida feels like a bastion of liberty.
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