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A year into the pandemic, Florida is booming and Republican Gov. DeSantis is taking credit




“Everyone told me I was wrong,” DeSantis, a Republican, said in an appeal to raise funds on Tuesday, drawing attention to his pandemic challenge. “I faced continued pressure from radical Democrats and the liberal media, but I refused to back down. It’s clear: Florida got it right.”

As many parts of the country embark on an awkward march toward normalcy, Florida has not only returned to work, but has been for most of the past year. DeSantis ’commitment to taking a laissez faire approach seems to be bearing fruit, at least politically, at least for now, as other governors capturing attention in the early stages of the pandemic now face stronger challenges.

Despite far fewer rules and restrictions, Florida lands in the middle of almost every state with a wide variety of coronavirus metrics. The state has had about 3% more cases per capita of Covid-19 than the United States as a whole, but 8% fewer deaths per capita. More than 32,000 Floridians have died from Covid-19, and the state’s per capita mortality rate ranks 24th in the country.

“These closures have not worked. They have done great damage to our country,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a news conference in Tallahassee. “We can never let something like this happen again. Florida took a different path. As a result, we’ve been more successful.”

DeSantis, who is 42 years old and is the youngest governor in the nation, stands out among his peers and seizes what he and his supporters believe is a vindication of his policies.

School closures and openings are suddenly a new measure for voters to hold governors and other elected officials accountable, a sign that pandemic policy could open an uncertain chapter for many in public office. He will be among the governors who will test his record when he stands for re-election next year.

“We still have millions of children across this country who are denied access to face-to-face education,” DeSantis told a news conference. “We still have companies closed in many parts of this country. We have millions and millions of lives destroyed.”

“It wouldn’t be booming if it closed”

With spring on the horizon, DeSantis suddenly seems to be in a position of strength compared to some of his fellow government officials, including many who took much more restrictive approaches to fighting the coronavirus that caused an effect of dripping into the economy.

He does not face a possible retreat as California Gov. Gavin Newsom, investigated as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, or who had guessed he had lifted a state mask mandate as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott .

DeSantis refused to apply a mask warrant in the first place, making it an atypical value a year ago. At the time, he was closely following President Donald Trump’s playbook, which he then argued was good for business.

The unemployment rate in Florida is 4.8%, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 6.8% in Texas, 8.8% in New York and 9% in California.

“If you look at what’s happening in South Florida right now, I mean this place is booming. It wouldn’t be booming if it closed,” DeSantis said last month when a lot of tourists were starting to arrive. “Los Angeles is not booming. New York City is not booming. Here it is booming because you can live like a human being.”

Florida has recorded about 9,204 cases per 100,000 people and about 150 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. Across the country, there have been about 8,969 cases per 100,000 people and 163 deaths per 100,000 people.

Despite much stricter restrictions, California only ranks better than Florida in both measures. Its mortality rate is about 5% lower than in Florida, meaning that about 1,500 lives could have been saved in Florida if the state’s mortality rate matched that of California.

Still, comparing one state to another is complicated and often counterproductive, said Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health who maintains its own Covid dashboard. For example, he said, Florida’s humidity and New York City’s density offer completely different scenarios for fighting the coronavirus.

“What I’d like to ask about Florida is that if we had done things differently in Florida, how would it have been?” Salemi told CNN. “If you use these metrics in which Florida is relative to many other states, we’re looking for half the group. So no, it hasn’t been a disaster that we lead per capita mortality in per capita cases.”

He added: “It’s not always about doing it right in relation to your peers. It’s how we can prevent so much morbidity and mortality from the virus, while keeping an eye on what’s going on with our economy.”

He said Florida has also benefited from local ordinances that require masks and restrict the size of meetings. DeSantis has banned cities and counties from fining people for refusing to wear masks and is provoking outrage among local officials by pushing to strip their authority to set such rules.

Throughout the pandemic, it is that challenging and often combative DeSantis that has become increasingly the love of Republicans. He rejects most interview requests, including those from CNN, although he frequently appears on Fox News and other propaganda platforms. It has been locked in one fight after another with the state media for transparency in Covid statistics and other issues.

Still, his policies have increased his position within his party, but they have certainly closed the door to any Republican challenge. Potential Democratic candidates are already spinning.

Representative Charlie Crist, who served as Republican governor of the state from 2007 to 2011 and changed parties in 2012, is among Democrats considering challenging DeSantis for re-election next year. He said he intended to decide before the summer.

Asked how he thought Florida had withstood the pandemic, Christ said, “It’s a mixed bag, to be honest.”

“We have a light at the end of the tunnel feeling and that’s really a gift from God,” Christ told CNN in an interview in his office here. “On the other hand, there are about 33,000 colleagues in Florida who have died now. And that’s incredibly sad, tragic and more than unfortunate. How are we doing it? Well, we’re going through it like the rest of the country and just doing the best you can “. v

Christ and other Florida Democrats call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into whether DeSantis gave preference to donors later vaccine clinics by invitation only they were established in at least two exclusive communities. Covid-19’s exclusive clinics allowed some 6,000 people to jump ahead of tens of thousands of seniors on waiting lists in Manatee and Charlotte counties, where the records took place.

“Was preference given to some rich, Caucasian Republican communities?” Said Christ. “Because it certainly looks like it.”

A spokeswoman for the governor has dismissed the accusation and said, “The insinuation that the policy has for the distribution of vaccines in Florida is unfounded and ridiculous.”

“I think he made a bet and it worked”

Here in Florida, where beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico pile up this week in ways not seen for more than a year, the full story of the pandemic has yet to be told. he has written as President Joe Biden inherits the challenge and has accelerated vaccines here and across the country. However, health experts and local officials are concerned that a spring break holiday parade could contribute to an increase in Covid-19 cases.

Tom Golden, owner of a restaurant and bar along the busy stretch of Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg, said he didn’t have much of an opinion on DeSantis a year ago. But with his business not only surviving, but prospering, he offers an amount of credit to the governor.

“When he took office, he wasn’t sure what to expect,” Golden said in an interview just before lunch on a sunny morning this week. “But he didn’t do anything to hurt me as a businessman or as a Floridian. Very well with me.”

After allowing the companies to open after being closed for several weeks late last spring, Golden said he remembers having mixed feelings about the balance of keeping the economy alive and protecting the health of the public.

“Well, of course, as a business owner, I supported it, but as a human being, I still thought it was a horrible position,” Golden said. “It’s hard to measure. I think he made a good decision.”

Conversations with more than a dozen Floridians offered a broad assessment of views on DeSantis ’treatment of the coronavirus crisis. Several people suggested that they did not initially support him, but in retrospect they found themselves approving of his decision to reopen the economy and schools.

A woman walking down the St. Petersburg pier talked about her grandchildren in California, who have attended virtually every school year. He said he believed Florida’s approach was better, given the temperate climate and the ability to be outside. He refused to be identified by his name, but praised DeSantis’ decisions that have allowed the orchestra to resume its performance here and prosper the economy.

Molly Minton, who works as a lab supervisor, said she remembers being discouraged when she left home from work and saw crowded bars and restaurants. Looking back, she said, she’s glad many small businesses could stay open and believes Florida was very lucky in many ways.

“I think he took a bet and it worked,” Minton said of the governor.

In an expansive state of more than 21 million people, where some estimates say about 1,000 new residents arrive every day, many people said they had no opinion about DeSantis and didn’t know much about it.

He was born in Jacksonville and grew up on the Gulf Coast, just north of here in Dunedin, and had a love of baseball that sent his team to the Little League World Series. He later played off the field while studying at Yale. He graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as a naval prosecutor, including a stay in Iraq as a JAG Navy lawyer advising a SEAL team.

In 2012, he won a seat in Congress and was elected governor in 2018 two months after turning 40. He was largely unknown during the primary campaign until he got the endorsement of Trump, who became aware of him through frequent appearances on Fox News.

Now, DeSantis is seen by many grassroots conservatives as a potential candidate for the 2024 presidency. That path depends on his government re-election next year.

Its long-term future, of course, also depends on the outcome of the rest of the pandemic. Still, he clearly hopes to make his new business card, which he telegraphed in a fundraising appeal for Republican governors he sent to supporters on Tuesday.

“Right now,” DeSantis wrote, “my state of Florida is one of the only states that said no to oppressive closures and that it has become an oasis of freedom for Americans.”