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As Florida’s coronavirus deaths worsen, our focus needs to sharpen | Column
State Sen. Janet Cruz says it’s time for the governor to govern.
Gov. Ron DeSantis removes his mask to answer questions during a press conference touting the expanded rollout of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood on Jan. 4.
Gov. Ron DeSantis removes his mask to answer questions during a press conference touting the expanded rollout of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital in Longwood on Jan. 4. [ JOE BURBANK | AP ]
Published Jan. 25

The coronavirus has killed more than 25,000 people in Florida. We have eclipsed 70,000 total hospitalizations and 1.6 million total COVID-19 cases. If you have watched our governor recently, though, the indication is that everything is going exactly how he planned.

The PR dog-and-pony show we have all witnessed paints a picture of progress that is wholly unrealistic. I do not wish to question Gov. Ron DeSantis’ intentions, but at this point, he seems more interested in locking horns with social media companies over what he describes as “Big Tech censorship” than addressing an unprecedented pandemic and what it has done to our state’s workforce, rampant housing insecurity and vaccine distribution.

Janet Cruz on the floor of the Florida Senate in 2019.
Janet Cruz on the floor of the Florida Senate in 2019. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2019) ]

This month, the governor attended an event in Texas where he lamented the “decapitating” of Parler, an alternative social network popular with conservatives. Too often, DeSantis has been intent on mirroring former President Donald Trump’s behavior, a disappointing metaphor of the imprinting a duckling goes through with its mother. As Trump goes so, does DeSantis, right down to the combative badgering of reporters.

As CNN reporter Rosa Flores questioned him on what has gone wrong with vaccine distribution in our state, the governor flippantly interrupted and spoke over her asking, “are you going to ask a question or give a speech?” as she attempted to give her question context. It was excruciating to watch.

All the while, the state has become a dystopian scramble for vaccine doses. Seniors filled parking lots and waited in temperatures in the low 40s in hope of receiving the potentially lifesaving inoculation. It certainly feels more like a scene out of a Stephen King piece than how public health should operate in the year 2021. So, is the governor going to continue to evade responsibility or will he govern?

Vaccine distribution would always be an uphill battle in our state. My colleague Sen. Lori Berman and I questioned the lack of infrastructure and staff in local county health departments in a Florida Senate Health Policy committee in 2019 when our state was fumbling the handling of a Hepatitis A outbreak. This issue has been recurring in our state for the last decade, as we have seen a reduction of more than 3,000 full-time employees within local health departments in the last 10 years, 27 percent of their entire workforce. I contemplated what the slashing of minority health initiatives would mean in terms of lost lives in 2011 as we debated the budget that year, and now we are seeing our minority communities ravaged by this virus.

The governor has mentioned that the state would not dictate to hospitals how to run the operations, citing that hospitals are much more competent at delivering health care services. Well, that is because state leadership has systematically decimated our Department of Health, and now we are paying for that decision, not in dollars and cents, but in human lives.

Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, represents District 18 in the Florida Senate.