Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to allow a cruise ship full of passengers sick with COVID-19 to disembark, on the basis that “we cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida.” He later announced that he would allow 49 Florida residents to disembark from two cruise ships. The more than 250 non-Floridian Americans on board, not to mention the hundreds of others from other countries, are out of luck.
DeSantis’ allegiance to Floridians—only Floridians—is a sign of how the virus is creating an every-state-for-themselves dynamic. It’s not unusual for countries to exempt their citizens from travel restrictions, as the Trump administration has done during the coronavirus outbreak by allowing Americans to return from China and Europe after travel bans were put in place. This is dubious on public health grounds—Americans are just as likely to carry the disease as foreigners—but it makes political sense that governments have a higher degree of obligation to protect their own citizens. It’s more unusual to see this kind of policy enacted at a U.S. state level.
Historian Nick Kapur referred to DeSantis’ decision as “bizarro Floridian nationalism.”