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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 14, 2020
Across Canada’s two most populous provinces, a creeping dread is taking hold as the unimaginable begins to look frighteningly real.
Every year, once the frost arrives, thousands of grey-haired Ontarians and Quebecers load up the car, truck, SUV, camper or other sensible vehicle and head South to avoid having to endure another Canadian winter. Sixty-plus years of cold and snow is enough; they want sun. They want heat. They want Florida.
But, having lost their spring and much of the summer to the coronavirus, they now face the prospect that Florida will steal away their winter. Every day new reports greet them in the morning paper (a lot of them still like their news on paper) revealing the tragically inept efforts of the Sunshine State to ignore, deny, discount, refute, deride or otherwise pretend not to notice the impact the virus is having. The state that gave us hanging chads and a chronic inability to hold an election sans chaos is now distinguishing itself by pretending there’s no reason to be perturbed by a virus that is killing an average of 71 people a day, and rising.
A creeping dread is taking hold
Death is one of those things you tend to think of more often the closer you get to it, so telling tens of thousands of seniors not to worry about an escalating death toll is not a message likely to inspire confidence. Health care being a big issue with older people, it’s worrying to learn that 85 per cent of the state’s intensive-care beds are already occupied, with less than 1,000 left across the state.
The central figure in the state’s refusal to accept that something bad is happening is Gov. Ron DeSantis, a big fan of Donald Trump, who has adopted a similar approach to the president in dealing with the emergency. He just insists it’s not nearly as bad as everyone makes out.
When Friday’s figures on the lack of ICU beds was released by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, DeSantis offered his own alternative figures. “I think between 10 and 12 or 13 thousand — somewhere like that — beds are available,” he said, adding that 90 per cent capacity is “how hospitals normally run.”
DeSantis’s view on the pandemic is that it’s all being blown out of proportion . Last week he argued there was no reason to keep schools closed despite surging infection numbers, since some big retailers had already reopened.”If fast food and Walmart and Home Depot … is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential.” At the same time, however, he vetoed the budget for online education programs that were picking up the slack by providing online platforms for distance learning.
DeSantis says the state has to save money to pay for its coronavirus efforts, even as he denies the extent of the impact. He’s already proclaimed victory once, in a visit to the White House before infection numbers starting shooting through the roof, when he boasted that his “tailored and measured approach” meant Florida was “stabilized at where we’re at.”
Since then the virus has swept through the state. On Sunday yet another record was set, with more than 15,000 new cases in 24 hours. That would place it fourth in the world if Florida were a country. DeSantis dismisses criticism, noting that other big southern states are having big problems, too . That’s true enough — Texas and California both have seen new records of infection — but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott , like DeSantis a Republican, recently abandoned his resistance to masks and issued a mandatory order, warning that “the only way that we can have people continue to have a job they need to pay their bills is for everybody to adopt this practice of wearing a face mask.” In California masks have been required since June. DeSantis has left it up to individual municipalities to make their own decisions on the basis the virus is hitting some areas harder than others, ignoring the danger that maskless people from hard-hit areas could spread the virus elsewhere.
Predictably, the governor is no fan of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House coronavirus adviser, who keeps getting under the skin of Trumpite Republicans by insisting masks are a good thing and that abandoning public safeguards too quickly will make things much worse. Fauci specifically mentioned Florida last week when he suggested the state “certainly … I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints.” That earned a rebuke from DeSantis, who maintained there is “ really no justification to not move forward ” despite the rising death toll and record infection rate.
Needing a reason for the rising numbers, other than his own policies, DeSantis has blamed migrant farmworkers who fill many jobs in the vital agricultural industry, a view contradicted by the state’s agriculture commissioner, who said most migrant workers returned home weeks before the numbers started rising. In any case, the biggest spikes have been in urban areas, not farmland.
DeSantis is likely in too deep to backtrack now, which is bad news for Canadian snowbirds. If the governor wants to keep out seasonal migrants, his biggest success may come with Canadians. That’s about $6.5 billion in lost revenue for Florida , and upwards of $700 million in tax revenue. That’s a lot of lost trips to Disney World.
• Twitter: KellyMcParland
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020