Partisanship explains most of that double standard but I think there’s also an element in which the tone was set early for each man’s narrative. Cuomo benefited from the fact that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio performed terribly *and* made a series of idiotic statements/public appearances in early March as the outbreak was exploding, allowing Cuomo come off as the adult in the room by comparison. He performed terribly too — follow the first link above — but at least sounded competent. Thus was the epic saga set in motion of Andrew Cuomo, Savior of New York. No subsequent mistakes, including the debacle of sending infected residents back into nursing homes, could shake it.
DeSantis had the opposite problem, starting off on a bad note and then performing well. I still don’t understand his decision in March not to act more aggressively to shut down Spring Break, knowing how socializing among college kids risked spreading the virus, but it’s hard to argue with Florida’s results since then. It’s in the bottom half of U.S. states in both cases and deaths per capita despite having an outsized share of senior citizens in the population. Relatedly, DeSantis had the eminent good sense to prevent sick nursing-home residents from being sent back to their facilities after they were diagnosed with COVID-19. That decision alone may have saved thousands of lives. But his initial delay on Spring Break set in motion a second unstoppable saga, Ron DeSantis, Bane of Florida.
Today he let the media have it.
Good stuff from DeSantis here. pic.twitter.com/ESvo6Pb1uw
— neontaster (@neontaster) May 20, 2020
Rich Lowry has a long interview with DeSantis today about his state’s management of the epidemic that has three key insights. One is decentralization. DeSantis took a mini-federalist approach to lockdowns, recognizing that high-density areas like Miami may need more stringent controls than the panhandle. So he let local leaders take the lead before finally issuing a watered-down statewide stay-at-home order later. Two is his skepticism of sweeping lockdowns to begin with. They were unprecedented, he told Lowry, so he wanted to move slowly on them. Subsequent data has shown that Americans began practicing social distancing even before lockdown orders went into effect, raising the question of how much they were needed. That happened in Florida too, per the WSJ:
Many Floridians appear to have reached a similar conclusion. Analysis of cellphone location data by companies like Descartes Labs Inc. and SafeGraph Inc. shows that residents’ daily mobility began dropping sharply after March 15, as it did in other parts of the U.S. By the following week, it had declined more than 50% statewide from an established baseline, according to a compilation of such data by a lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, it had decreased more than 80%.
It was a period of grim media coverage of the pandemic, with stories of Italian military trucks ferrying coffins and fears of escalation in New York City…
On April 1, Mr. DeSantis bowed to public pressure from residents and some officials and issued a statewide stay-at-home order, effective April 3. By then, much of the state already had been buttoned up for weeks.
One footnote about lockdowns, though. If you read Pro Publica’s scathing critique of Cuomo and de Blasio last weekend, you’ll remember that their key failing was in not moving as quickly as San Francisco in issuing a stay-at-home order, a decision that may have produced a much higher death toll as the virus spread silently. Florida may have been lucky in that it was probably seeded with fewer cases by mid-March than New York was. Beneath a certain critical threshold of infections, it might be that the population itself can control the outbreak through voluntary social distancing. Beyond that threshold, a meltdown may be unavoidable.
As for DeSantis’s third insight, that had to do with nursing homes. Andrew Cuomo, pay attention:
Florida, DeSantis notes, “required all staff and any worker that entered to be screened for COVID illness, temperature checks. Anybody that’s symptomatic would just simply not be allowed to go in.” And it required staff to wear PPE. “We put our money where our mouth is,” he continues. “We recognized that a lot of these facilities were just not prepared to deal with something like this. So we ended up sending a total of 10 million masks just to our long-term-care facilities, a million gloves, half a million face shields.”
Florida fortified the hospitals with PPE, too, but DeSantis realized that it wouldn’t do the hospitals any good if infection in the nursing homes ran out of control : “If I can send PPE to the nursing homes, and they can prevent an outbreak there, that’s going to do more to lower the burden on hospitals than me just sending them another 500,000 N95 masks.”
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this insight, and how much it drove Florida’s approach, counter to the policies of New York and other states. (“I don’t want to cast aspersions on others, but it is incredible to me, it’s shocking,” says the Florida health official, “that Governor Cuomo [and others] are able to kind of just avoid real questions about their policies early on to actually send individuals into the nursing home, which is completely counter to the real data.”)
Florida recognized, quite intuitively, that concentrated populations of senior citizens were far more prone to lethal outcomes than the wider population and it acted accordingly, not just in nursing homes but in consulting with retirement communities on taking precautions. It paid off. Hopefully DeSantis will get the credit he deserves going forward.