Editorial: Help us out, Gov. DeSantis. We're dying here

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wore a face mask as he greeted Vice President Mike Pence with a fist-bump at Miami’s airport Monday. He should back up the photo-op with a sensible and long-overdue statewide mask requirement.

With each passing day, COVID-19 continues to careen out of control in Florida. A record 216 deaths were reported Wednesday. That broke the previous record of 191 deaths, reported just Tuesday.

“The numbers are not stabilizing,” Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry told the Sun Sentinel’s Lisa Huriash on Tuesday.

“I am getting so much pressure to shut everything down. … I’m trying so hard not to do that because so many people say if we do it again, their business will never reopen.”

Help her out, governor. Help us all out. Far better that you require people to wear masks in public than to continue fostering conditions that will force another shutdown.

Your refusal to impose a mask order — a requirement now in effect in 32 other states — is out of touch with the mainstream. A new Quinnipiac poll found 79% of Floridians support a mask requirement, including 60% of Republicans. If that’s not a mandate, what is?

Your daily upbeat message is hopelessly at odds with what Floridians are going through. You make it sound like everything is headed in the right direction. But it’s not.

True, Broward County’s number of daily new cases has improved from a cataclysmic 1,363 on July 15 to an abysmal 1,207 on July 28.

And yes, during that same time the percentage of positive tests declined from a record-breaking 15.8% to an alarming 12.4%. But we remain well over the 10% threshold recommended for communities to shut down. By comparison, Los Angeles County, the epicenter of California’s outbreak, is in the 8s.

Because the rules are different here, at least 12 states have singled out Floridians for 14-day quarantines should we dare to fly north to escape the heat and whatever lurks in the air.

Who can blame them? Florida now boasts the second highest number of cases per 100,000 people, with 2,008. That’s more than New York, at 1,690; Illinois, 1,365; Texas, 1,345; and California, 1,164. Florida is second only to New Jersey with 2,018, according to the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker.

One reason why Broward’s numbers may have peaked is because the county and its cities are getting tough with defiant people who take their cues from your reticence.

On Tuesday, police arrested a local Plantation gym owner who thinks a local mask ordinance violates his personal freedoms and doesn’t apply to him. So like a high schooler who sneaks out at night, he let customers huff and puff mask-free. But as Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes made clear Monday in upholding Palm Beach County’s mask ordinance: “We do not have a constitutional right to infect others.”

Some people, like the gym owner, need a governor to take away the car keys. The rest of us need you to do more to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. For almost all of us now know someone who has either gotten sick, or died. And we’re scared.

In a unique show of unity on Tuesday, 135 Florida business executives issued a public call for people to adhere to the public health guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our state has been reaching record levels on an almost daily basis,” said the executives, led by health care executive Pat Geraghty of Florida Blue.

Their first recommendation: “Wear a mask when you’re outside of your home.” They stopped short of calling for a mask mandate, however.

One name was noticeably missing from the list of CEOs: Ron DeSantis, the CEO of Florida.

The governor doesn’t want to call for a mask mandate because he says each county is different, so each should make its own decision about how to fight the global pandemic. But he doesn’t have a problem issuing a one-size-fits-all order for all state schools to open next month. Besides, cities and counties don’t have health departments. That’s strictly a state function.

We were discouraged Sunday to read a Washington Post report that said that as COVID-19 spiked in July, DeSantis met only once with Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.

Rivkees, the state health director, has essentially disappeared from public view. It happened three months ago after he said people may have to wear masks for up to a year or until a vaccine is found. Almost immediately after he made this remark, a DeSantis aide pulled him from the dais.

A lot has been learned about the coronavirus over the course of these five long months, including this: When it comes to masks, asking nicely doesn’t always work.

The science is clear: Face coverings reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and can save lives.

Issue a mask mandate, governor. If you can wear one in public, so can we all.


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