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DeSantis’ Covid record is even worse than you think

Since vaccines became universally available, the state's mortality numbers are inexcusably bad.

You may have heard that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for president. If you have, you probably also know that he’s actually running on his Covid pandemic record. Which is odd because, if you look closely, it is absolutely abysmal. 

DeSantis has spent the past month comparing the pandemic record of his state to that of those big bad blue states of New York and California, which were among the hardest hit by Covid at first. Things were so bad in New York in those early days that DeSantis issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any New Yorkers entering the state of Florida for nearly five months

Florida’s record is inexcusably bad — especially compared to DeSantis’ favorite punching bags of New York and California.

On the one hand, if you look at the overall numbers, you can see why DeSantis likes to make this comparison. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida ranks 4th in the country with over 78,707 total deaths, behind California, Texas and New York.

To be fair, all these states are pretty big. If you look at deaths per capita, Florida ranks in the middle of the pack at #22 with 361 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s better than New York at #10, with 406 per 100,000, but a lot worse than liberal woke California at #39, with 274 per 100,000.

While that doesn’t look so bad, it’s not much to write home about. But to understand just how truly bad Ron DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic has been, it makes no sense to just look at the entire period from January 2020 until today. Remember, in the first year or so of the pandemic there were no vaccines. It wasn’t until May 1, 2021 that vaccines became available to all American adults, and — I can’t believe I still have to point this out — it’s since been overwhelmingly well-established that higher vaccination rates are strongly associated with lower death rates.

When you use May 2021 as your starting point, Florida’s record is horrendously and inexcusably bad — especially compared to DeSantis’ favorite punching bags of New York and California.

If you look at the deaths per capita in those three states before vaccines were universally available to adults, you see Florida initially had fewer deaths than New York and California. But look at the numbers after those life-saving vaccines, and New York and California’s deaths plummet, while Florida’s skyrocket.

In fact, more than 58% of Florida’s total Covid deaths — the majority! — have come after vaccines became available to all adults. 58%! By contrast, just under 33% and 40% of New York and California’s respective death totals have come after vaccines.

In other words, after vaccines became available, for New York and California most of the deaths were behind them. For Florida, incredibly — and again, inexcusably — the worst was yet to come. 

Of course, Florida has a much higher elderly population than New York and California, so you might expect higher death rates. Yet, even when you look at the CDC’s age-adjusted data after vaccines became universally available, Florida still fares worse (at 146 deaths per 100,000 residents) than New York (at 102 per 100,000) and California at (98 per 100,000).

In fact, even if you take the entirety of the pandemic from January 2020 to present, when you compare Florida to other states with a similar proportion of elderly residents — like Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire — the Sunshine State still has a far higher death per capita rate from Covid.

The evidence demonstrates what is objectively and undeniably a horrific record.

Here’s the thing. If you know that you have a large, vulnerable, elderly population, shouldn’t you take more precautions during the pandemic, to protect your own residents? You know, promote mask-wearing? Push for widespread vaccination? Encourage booster shots?

DeSantis, of course, loudly — and recklessly — flip-flopped on those public health priorities throughout the pandemic. That has cost the lives of thousands of Floridians, young and old.

Even now, as DeSantis touts his Covid prowess and his defiant response, one thing you won’t hear him talk about is how last summer, for three months straight, Florida had the highest number of Covid deaths of any state in the nation. In fact, it was the third straight summer in which that was the case.

And yet, the governor of Florida is now running for president on the basis of that Covid record: three straight summers with the highest Covid deaths of any state, more deaths after vaccines were available than before, more deaths per capita than other states with equally high proportions of elderly residents. 

DeSantis’ aides, allies and apologists continue to gaslight us and tell us that Ron DeSantis somehow won the pandemic when the evidence demonstrates what is objectively and undeniably a horrific record when it comes to Covid deaths in his state.

Now, some have compared DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic in Florida to Nero fiddling while Rome burned. But, in my view, that analogy isn’t quite right. DeSantis is perhaps worse than Nero, because at least he just fiddled. Nero didn’t help spread the fire.

This is an adapted excerpt from the May 25 episode of “The Mehdi Hasan Show.”