Though this might not rise to the level of “Nero fiddles while Rome burns,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has released a new line of “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merchandise, ironically timed as Florida’s COVID-19 cases are rising and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent warnings about the pandemic appear particularly relevant to the Sunshine State.
A July 12 tweet from DeSantis’ campaign team revealed the new line of merchandise, which the Daily Beast characterized as “a new range of merch for people keen to become immediately identifiable as COVID deniers who are to be avoided at all costs.”
The Washington Post, in its reporting on the potential Republican presidential candidate’s headline-grabbing move, noted that “new coronavirus infection numbers plummeted in Florida after vaccinations became widely available, but they have ticked up in recent weeks. The state is reporting daily cases close to four times the national average—26 new infections per 100,000 residents, the second-highest number in the country. The state’s latest COVID-19 death rate is almost double the national figure, and it ranks fourth for current hospitalizations.”
DeSantis has positioned himself as oppositional to Fauci and other health officials advising abundant caution throughout the pandemic. For much of the pandemic, Desantis ignored expert opinions to slow the spread of COVID in an effort to keep Florida’s economy chugging along and to keep kids in school.
A speech carried last month by Fox’s LiveNOW service characterizes the public policy choices he made in managing the pandemic as “choosing freedom over Fauci.”
The merchandise, as Local10.com reported, includes a koozie that says “Drink a Beer” on one side and a quote attributed to DeSantis on the other: “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?”
But the rising COVID cases in Florida make another question possible: “How the hell am I going to drink a beer on a ventilator?” According to the Miami Herald, outbreaks in the Miami metro area, Jacksonville, and the Panhandle are driving COVID-19 case numbers up, as the state has become one of the nation’s five biggest hotspots.
Miami-Dade County is recording 150 cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day average, behind only Los Angeles County in California and about five times the national rate, according to Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University. That’s despite the county having a relatively high vaccination rate, with 73% having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
That can’t be said for the rest of the state, where coronavirus-related hospitalization rates appear to be at a higher rate for patients in their 30s and 40s as compared to those over 65.
Dr. Lilian Abbo, chief of infectious diseases at Jackson, thinks that hotter and wetter weather driving people indoors is a factor, but she attributes much of it to DeSantis’ behavior.
“People are unvaccinated and unmasked,” Abbo saidd. “That is not what the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] was recommending when it said people who had received a vaccine no longer had to wear a mask. Here, it’s like a free for all.”