Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association
Florida’s Heavyweight COVID Fight
Governor Ron DeSantis gets public opinion high marks
For many Canadian snowbirds, Florida feels like home. It’s why most Florida good news, bad news, quirky news and important news is inevitably interesting, important, relatable and snowbird-relevant.
For snowbirds, what happens in Florida matters!
After all, in any normal year, the state’s tourism-dependent economy relies on more than 3.5 million Canadians (500,000 snowbirds) flocking to the Sunshine State and spending $6.5 billion on all things Florida.
Of course, by no stretch of any measure has it been a normal year − for the world and for Florida snowbirds. It’s why, at the start of the 2021 season, many snowbirds closely monitored Florida’s ever-changing COVID situation while weighing go-or-don’t-go options.
They listened for Florida’s COVID news and the often combative and controversial (masks-or-no-masks, lockdowns-or-no-lockdowns, vaccine-or-no-vaccine) comments of Florida’s feisty Governor Ron DeSantis.
In the rough-and-tumble ring of public opinion, the governor’s disdain and dismissal of many early but gloomy 2020 pandemic projections, as well as his blunt and outspoken COVID positions and decisions were like a heavyweight boxing match: sparring about public health, the pandemic’s spread, the impact on Florida’s economy and dealing with public anxieties.
Throughout the fight, the pugnacious 42-year-old, Yale- and Harvard-educated governor floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee, took a lot of hits and provoked his share of cheers and jeers while landing quite a few bold and potent uppercuts of his own.
His defiant anti-lockdown-and-no-masks (eventually, masks-optional) stance. His early and unswerving 65+ vaccination priority. Florida’s unexpected deadly summer surge, which caused some temporary lockdowns, followed by accusations that DeSantis lifted the lockdowns too prematurely. And his recent ban of a vaccine passport for Florida businesses − were triggers for derisive feedback.
And then, the momentum of public opinion shifted to positive. The somewhat prickly public opinion scorecard is now declaring the gutsy Florida governor a winner by a somewhat controversial TKO.
“Everyone told me I was wrong,” he recalls about the early pushback. “I faced continued pressure from radical politicians and some media, but I refused to back down. It’s now clear. Florida got it right. For age 65 and up, which is where we focused most of our efforts protecting our seniors, there are 40 states that have higher per capita COVID mortality for seniors than Florida. More than two-thirds of all the state’s seniors have received doses of the vaccine.
“The facts are, if you are a senior, you were less likely to die with COVID in Florida than you were in California, even though they are the quintessential lockdown, drag-out, close schools and close businesses state.”
At the core of DeSantis’ COVID crusade was Florida’s adamant rejection of business and school lockdowns. Aside from reacting to last summer’s sudden surge and worries about hospital capacities, Florida has not mandated any business lockdowns or school closures.
“Lockdowns and school closures have not worked!” DeSantis said with passion. “They’ve done great damage to our country. We still have millions of kids across this country who are denied access to in-person education, many businesses closed in many parts of this country and millions and millions of lives destroyed. Florida took a different path and we’ve had more success as a result.
“Florida is booming. It would not be booming if it was shut down. Los Angeles isn’t booming. New York City’s not booming. It’s booming here because you can live like a human being. Florida is one of the only states that said no to oppressive lockdowns and has become an oasis of freedom for Americans.”
Since last December, when the first Florida vaccine shipment was distributed, DeSantis set policy to phase in the vaccination of priority populations: Florida residents 65 and up, long-term care facilities staff, residents and frontline workers were first.
It also happened to be the start of snowbird season and sparked complaints and controversial resentment from some local Floridians about unfair “vaccine tourism” − mostly Canadian snowbirds and seasonal out-of-state visitors flying in and jumping in line at Florida vaccination centres. Again, the gung-ho Florida governor came out strong and swinging. He affirmed that the state would not turn away seasonal residents.
“We’re a transient state. People who live here for four or five months a year, have relationships with doctors and they get medical care here.” He set policy that anyone who owns property and lives in Florida at least part time, and meets the age criteria, would be asked for proof of residency or semi-permanent residency (a utility bill, property tax receipt or a lease agreement) to qualify for the vaccine. He added that casual visitors would no longer be eligible.
In early March, while Ontario and Quebec snowbirds were plugged in for vaccine (and quarantine) updates from home, DeSantis announced that Florida residents younger than 65 deemed medically vulnerable, health-care personnel with direct patient contact, 50+ -year-old school employees, law enforcement officers and firefighters were next. By the end of March, everyone 40+ was eligible and, by early April, all 18+ residents became eligible.
The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for 16+ and both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were authorized for 18+. In mid-April (based on the sudden CDC and FDA recommendations), Florida temporarily paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.
After a year of hanging tough and, despite a barrage of punches and counter-punches from political rivals, media and even late-night comedians, the firebrand Florida governor is now the public opinion winner! Maybe not quite by unanimous decision, but DeSantis is standing tall among other governors in the dragged-out COVID fight.
He certainly claims high marks, in spite of taking ongoing sucker punches like the recent 60 Minutes segment investigating how and why some wealthy DeSantis campaign donors in yacht clubs, golf courses and gated Florida communities such as Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota and Pelican Bay in Naples were given special access to the vaccine. Like a good heavyweight rope-a-doper, he shrugged it off as “a fake narrative.”
Public opinion forever matters as a fickle and delicate fact of public life, and optics count. Governor Ron DeSantis did receive a single-dose vaccine in early April, although his office declined to comment why the jab was strategically administered discreetly, in private.
Canadian snowbirds are now thinking about 2022 and looking back on how home-away-from-home Florida handled the menacing pandemic. And the governor’s gutsy defiance continues. Businesses, beaches, golf courses, restaurants and schools are all open and more than six million people have now received at least one vaccine dose.
For now, public opinion is shining on Governor DeSantis and, by all indications, snowbirds are impressed. Will his defiance of lockdowns and closures brand him Florida’s COVID hero or villain?
Time (and variants) will tell.
Governor Ron DeSantis visits The Villages February 20, 2019
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