Local officials and public health experts are accusing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of abdicating his leadership responsibilities as the state faces a record-shattering spike in coronavirus cases, an increase believed to be fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
"As Covid surges in Florida again, our governor is absent."
On Tuesday, Florida recorded nearly 47,000 new Covid-19 infections, shattering the state's previous daily record of 32,874 cases set on Christmas Eve. The day before Christmas Eve, Florida tallied 31,744 cases, then the highest daily case count since August 16.
As the latest coronavirus wave engulfs the state and threatens to overwhelm strained hospitals, DeSantis has disappeared from public view, a fact that has drawn the notice and ire of elected officials and others. The governor, who has previously come under fire for assailing common-sense public health measures, hasn't held a media briefing in nearly two weeks amid the Omicron surge.
The governor has also actively worked to tie the hands of local officials, making it more difficult for public institutions and private businesses to spring into action in response to rising infections. As the Associated Press noted Wednesday, "A new law signed by DeSantis last month prevents businesses from having vaccine mandates unless they allow workers to opt out, bars schools and governments from having vaccine mandates, and allows parents to sue schools with masking requirements."
Orange County, Florida Mayor Jerry Demings blasted Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this week, saying that "we have not received any assistance from the state of Florida at our testing sites."
"Our residents, all Florida residents, should be outraged," said Demings, "and they should ask the question, 'Where is our state? Where is our governor? Where is Ron DeSantis now?'"
Nikki Fried, Florida's agriculture commissioner and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, wrote on social media Wednesday that "as Covid surges in Florida again, our governor is absent."
"So here I am doing his job and mine with an update," Fried added, posting a clip of Omicron-related comments she made to reporters earlier this week.
Much of the United States is currently in the grip of a coronavirus wave as the Omicron strain runs through the population, driving a record-breaking infection spike. On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded 488,000 new coronavirus cases.
A recent analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed that the coronavirus is spreading faster in Florida than in most other U.S. states. Florida Today reported Monday that "weekly case counts rose in 63 counties from the previous week."
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and a senior fellow at the American Federation of Scientists, tweeted Thursday that "it's beginning to be suspicious how Florida's governor has not been seen for 12 straight days—all while Covid-19 cases spiked 1000% (all-time high) and hospitalizations surged."
"Florida’s leadership relying on mass-infection-herd strategy has been an abysmal failure," Feigl-Ding added. "After every wave, they thought they were at herd [immunity]. But new variants that evade past infection immunity have blown that strategy up. I worry hospitalizations will soon soar even more."