When the new year turned the corner with renewed optimism as state vaccination campaigns got underway, Gary and Linda Schworm, 69 and 70, contemplated from their central Ohio home whether to ride out the winter at their Florida residence per usual.
Conventional wisdom suggested their return to routine “normal” was a dangerous risk, as Florida, under the leadership of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, remained absent of the same strict statewide coronavirus restrictions placed on Ohioans aimed to mitigate viral spread. The Schworms knew, with their age, they would be among the first to receive the COVID vaccine, so it seemed best not to take undue risks so close to the finish line.
“We thought being in Ohio, wait it out,” Gary said.
But on the other hand, it still remained unclear how soon it would be until the vaccine would reach them, which lead them to reason if they were going to have to wait quite some time, they might as well be warm, and practice personal responsibility to isolate themselves. The Schworms ultimately arrived at their central Florida home on Jan. 5, and rapid developments later vindicates their decision.
“We kind of came down here late this year,” Gary said, but the couple had no regrets. They were registered for the Moderna vaccine in less than a week. “I was very impressed with how organized they were.”
Ohio, in contrast, didn’t open up vaccine eligibility to seniors older than 65 until early t0 mid-February. Florida has routinely led the country in vaccinating seniors, prioritizing group eligibility by age over occupation, as seen in other states.
According to the Florida Department of Health, the state’s Senior’s First vaccination strategy has gotten more than 3.1 million, or 70 percent of the state’s senior population aged 65 and older, inoculated. Of those who have been vaccinated, 63 percent have been 65 and older. As a result, Florida’s COVID death rate continues to decline, even as cases nationwide begin to level off.
Florida’s success is in no small part credited to the state meeting communities where they are to administer vaccines to prioritized population.
“By establishing vaccine points of distribution in senior living communities and partnering with major retail pharmacies and places of worship, Florida is bringing vaccines to seniors’ backyards and breaking down barriers to access for seniors of all backgrounds,” DeSantis spokeswoman Katie Strickland told The Federalist. “We will not stop until every senior has access to the vaccine.”
Contrary to a partisan hit piece published by NBC News accusing DeSantis of setting up vaccine centers in predominantly white, Republican communities as a form of political patronage, the governor’s office has been aggressive in its effort to open sites in underserved neighborhoods. Seven permanent sites have been set up in such communities and the administration partnered with the state’s legislative black caucus to work with more than 200 churches to vaccinate more than 60,000 seniors.
“In total, there are nearly 1,000 vaccination sites across the state, including close to 900 pharmacy locations for seniors and other eligible Floridians to receive a shot,” Strickland said.
National coverage of DeSantis’ vaccine rollout would leave many convinced, contrary to this reality, that DeSantis is a racist Republican who let his state flounder amid the pandemic. No governor’s story has been as emblematic of the media’s coronavirus coverage as DeSantis’s, whose leftist opponents at legacy outlets promoted pandemic lockdowns to no real public health benefit. DeSantis, on the other hand, was the Florida boogeyman.
CNN headlined an article just three months ago before acknowledging the governor’s successes this week, “Putting ‘politics in front of lives’: DeSantis faces criticism over Florida’s Covid-19 response.” Last summer, the Washington Post characteristically branded DeSantis anti-science.
“Coronavirus ravaged Florida, as Ron DeSantis sidelined scientists, and followed Trump,” the paper headlined in July.
The New Republic was most straight-forward in its wild negative claims. “Florida Man Leads His State to the Morgue,” blared a magazine headline in June.
Now DeSantis, leading a successful vaccine rollout, also stands vindicated on his reversal of lockdowns, 12 months into the coronavirus pandemic. Even CNN highlighted Florida’s economic success Wednesday as the Sunshine State triumphs over pandemic obstacles.
“The unemployment rate in Florida is 4.8 percent,” the outlet acknowledged, while data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show rates of 8.8 percent in New York and 9 percent in California where governors have embraced the strictest lockdowns of the pandemic.
How about "A year into the pandemic, Florida is booming BECAUSE of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis" https://t.co/7KuTMxxQXs
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 17, 2021
Pandemic metrics meanwhile, 12 months later, show Florida ranks 27th in the country for its COVID-fatality rate, in stark contrast to New York leading the nation in second just behind New Jersey, which also embraced strict lockdowns. California, meanwhile, is just four states below Florida, ranking 31st in its coronavirus death rate.
At a time governors claimed states couldn’t have it both ways with a prosperous economy harboring a free people who practice personal responsibility and low COVID-death rates, DeSantis has proven otherwise. The data has now forced legacy outlets to acknowledge the governor’s triumphant pandemic leadership, with Politico headlining last week, “How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic.”
And DeSantis, primed to test the waters of a 2024 presidential run, knows it. “Don’t trust the elites,” the governor wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week.
For months we were told to ‘trust the experts,’ but far too often over the past year those who were most influential in our society – in public health, government and media – proved incapable of rising to the moment.
Florida cut against the grain of elite opinion and bucked the media narrative. The result is open schools, comparatively low unemployment and per capita COVID mortality below the national average. We cannot simply undo the harm caused by flawed policies advocated by our elites, but we can resolve that we never let this happen to our country again.