Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to make it hard for employers to require their workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination. He’s so serious about his version of ensuring “personal freedoms” that he has called for the Legislature to meet in a special session next month to create laws to punish businesses that enact vaccine mandates. Among other proposals, DeSantis wants those businesses to be financially liable for any medical harm that results from mandatory vaccinations.
Conservatives like DeSantis usually bend over backward to support business and free enterprise. They talk about setting a fair playing field and then allowing the market to take its course. They usually abhor the intrusive and heavy hand of big government. Now DeSantis doesn’t seem to have any problem twisting businesses’ arm.
A bout of cognitive dissonance is far less important than this central fact: Florida’s record on controlling and containing COVID is abysmal. State lawmakers tasked with considering DeSantis’ proposals must remember that nearly 59,000 Floridians have already died from COVID — that’s more than the American death toll in Vietnam. It’s easy to see a number like this and forget that it represents real people like Dennis Bello, 74, of Brandon; Janet Israel, 66, of Largo; Garlynn Boyd, 54, of St. Petersburg; Steven Thomas Carroll, 45, of Dade City; and Clearwater’s 32-year-old Adam Hergenreder. They were Floridians with family and friends who loved them. By the time the special legislative session in Tallahassee rolls around, the number will be even higher.
Florida has the eighth-highest death rate among the states since the start of the pandemic, at 272 deaths for every 100,000 residents. That’s worse than California. Worse than Ohio. Worse than Minnesota. Worse than Nebraska. More than twice the death rate of Colorado, four times the death rate of Hawaii.
And since early June, Florida has the highest death rate in the nation — period. An undoubtedly bleak way to think about that: No state failed as miserably as Florida this summer at keeping residents safe from COVID. The ignoble distinction is not solely the governor’s fault, nor do our state lawmakers possess some magical power to make COVID disappear overnight.
But the death rates speak for themselves. As legislators contemplate the best course during the upcoming special session, they must not forget those numbers, those deaths, those real people. They must ask themselves: Should we make it harder for businesses to help control the virus? Or should we keep on doing more of what made us the worst in the nation?
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.