Famous last words.
In a scene we’ve all watched play out to catastrophic results before, a political leader proudly declared victory against an enemy despite experts warning of any premature celebrations. However, that’s precisely the script that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis followed on Wednesday when he and Vice President Mike Pence boasted of the Sunshine State defeating the coronavirus.
The two Republicans appeared in Orlando as Florida begins to relax its coronavirus social distancing guidelines that have allowed restaurants and other businesses to resume inviting customers into their establishments. They were doing so even as the nation’s top health experts were all but guaranteeing a second wave of COVID that if history is any indication will be even more devastating than the first wave.
But none of that seemed to matter to DeSantis when he stepped in front of a gaggle of reporters and boasted that Florida has “succeeded” against the coronavirus. As the state dealt with the controversial fallout from the high-profile firing of an official who was collecting crucial coronavirus data, DeSantis openly mocked health experts as being incorrect in their predictions that Florida would be one of the worst states hit by the virus in an almost “I told you so” kind of manner.
The press conference to declare victory against the coronavirus followed the DeSantis and Pence visiting a burger spot in Orlando to apparently try to demonstrate how safe it is to roll back social distancing guidelines and allow citizens to dine together without any spatial restrictions. And no, neither he nor Pence were wearing any kind of personal protective equipment like masks. In fact, it appeared that no one at the restaurant was.
Florida was reopening as a renowned Harvard University epidemiologist predicted a stronger second wave of the coronavirus in the Fall.
“Almost every government is talking about lifting control measures. Not every government, but many, because of the economic burdens. Given the fairly high caseloads that we have in the United States, that’s a really risky thing to do right now,” Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said recently on a podcast with Journal of the American Medical Association Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner. He said that the warm weather in Florida and anywhere else as summer approaches will only be “enough to slow [the coronavirus’ second wave] down, but not enough to stop it.”
DeSantis made it a point to call out states like New York and brag that the coronavirus in Florida has been less severe because if his leadership. But Lipsitch suggested that kind of mindstate may be premature.
“Many jurisdictions will have a plan to open up but not a plan to reclose, leading to more situations like New York, New Orleans and Detroit where there’s extreme strains on the health care,” Lipsitch warned.
With a vaccine not expected anytime soon, the Spanish Flu of 1918 could suggest what’s looming over the coronavirus’ horizon.
“The reality is coronavirus is more than likely here to stay,” Dr. Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida Public Health told local news outlet WTSB while citing the Spanish Flu’s three waves, of which the second was the most deadly.
There was another reason to doubt that Florida was making the right move by reopening so soon: the firing of Rebekah Jones, the now-former state employee who was overseeing the so-called data “dashboard” tracking Florida’s coronavirus cases. She claims her termination will result in less transparency and accountability from the government, suggesting the data they produce without her will be inaccurate or misleading to bolster their claims that the state was ready to reopen.
“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” Jones wrote in an email to researchers and people who had signed up to receive updates about the data portal that she had been removed from.
Florida has more than 48,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 1,200 new cases as of Thursday morning.
As history has repeatedly shown, it often repeats itself to perilous results. That happened when President George W. Bush declared victory in a war in Iraq that continued for more than another 10 years after his famous “mission accomplished” speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003.
The same misguided level of confidence even led President Barack Obama to refer to the Islamic State as Al Qaeda’s “JV team” and said it was “contained” before the militant group better known as ISIS continued wreaking its terrorism on the world, including the infamous Paris attack in 2015.
Pence’s visit with DeSantis in Florida came on the same day that the authors of a new study showing southern states that relax social distancing guidelines prematurely increased their risk of a second wave of the coronavirus. They specifically named Florida in the study.
“The key now is understanding the resurgence risk as social distancing begins to change. The picture our models are painting for Texas and Florida provide ample evidence to others who would choose to move too quickly,” doctors wrote in an analysis published Wednesday. “We see these concerns even as we adjust for additional testing capacity that might have inflated our forecasts.”
You’d think politicians would be students of history and take note of past political failures in order to secure future wins, no matter how unpopular the stance is. However, it can’t be forgotten that this is America.