Freedom. That’s the cure Gov. Ron DeSantis proposes to Floridians who have been battered and bruised by two years of pandemic-driven policies and wave after wave of coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death.
DeSantis made it clear, on the opening day of Florida’s legislative session, how much he loves that word “freedom.” He opened and closed his speech with it, declaring Florida “the freest state in the United States.” And it’s a lovely word, one that sums up the ideals that made this nation great.
We just don’t think DeSantis has a very good grasp of what it means.
As he greeted lawmakers, the governor doubled down on his boastful promise to fight “authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” Never mind that those mandates and restrictions are intended to save lives, much like the rules against scheduling games of pickleball on Interstate 4 during rush hour. As for “never-ending,” that depends on the willingness to take the steps needed to end COVID-19′s reign of terror.
Do they sometimes change? Yes. As the virus mutates, exhausted researchers and public health officials are fighting to keep up. Their advice shifts. Sometimes, the shifts aren’t always good ideas — we’re thinking of the recent guidance that infected health care workers should truncate their isolation times to get back on the job more quickly. We suspect that’s based less on science than it is on the desperate need to cover the waves of patients who keep showing up in emergency rooms across the nation.
But the governor has granted himself freedom from brutal reality. He blasts the hundreds of epidemiologists, laboratory technicians and public-health experts scrambling to fight coronavirus as agents of a shadowed “biomedical security state” whose “blind adherence to Faucian declarations” are just a ruse to keep children out of school, destroy the economy and keep people cowering in their houses.
Why would the nation’s leading infectious-disease experts want to wreak such havoc? That’s another question the governor has freed himself from answering.
This is nothing new. For months now, DeSantis has exercised his freedom to ignore COVID-19′s devastating toll on Florida. To date, 4.8 million Floridians have tested positive for COVID-19, with more than 62,000 reported deaths. The state’s average daily caseload is not just higher than it’s ever been. It’s more than double the next-highest peak: The current 10-day average shows nearly 60,000 Floridians a day are testing positive.
Next, there’s the freedom of keeping up with the status of treatment options for coronavirus. DeSantis’ boasts about the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments — into which he sunk billions of dollars in state money — would have gone over better a month ago, before Floridians knew that two of the leading monoclonal treatments were largely ineffective against dominant strains of COVID.
Here’s the cruelest thing about DeSantis’ schtick: Every day, more Floridians are losing their freedom. It might start with the loss of the ability to take a deep breath without coughing, or the freedom to give a loved one a hug when they’re shivering with fever.
Nurses, doctors and other critical health care workers forced to work brutally long shifts are losing the freedom to have personal lives outside of work, while they fight to keep their optimism and compassion from being drained. For them, the only freedom on offer is the ability to walk away from professions they once loved.
Patients are being sedated and restrained while respiratory therapists prepare to put tubes down their throats. Pleading families are being banned from holding their loved ones’ hands as they struggle to survive.
And when DeSantis brags that “Florida has stood strong as the rock of freedom,” it’s a blow to the gut of all the grieving Florida families waiting on headstones that will take up to 10 weeks to arrive.
Freedom has never been absolute. But in Florida, that word has been used to excuse absolute folly. And we see no signs that the governor will relent. That’s not freedom. It’s tyranny — of willful, stubborn ignorance and indifference.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .