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Analysis: Ron DeSantis’ 2024 road just hit a major Covid-19 bump

The Florida Republican governor’s laissez-faire approach to Covid-19 — and the relatively low number of cases and deaths in such a large and elderly state — turned him into a celebrity in the same circles where Donald Trump is a secular saint.

Except that, suddenly, Florida’s numbers don’t look so good with the Delta variant of the coronavirus punishing the state. 

“The state accounts for one in five new infections in the U.S. and logged 73,181 cases over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida had 341 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, second only to Louisiana. The weekly total of new cases reported by Florida jumped more than fourfold between July 1 and July 22, reaching its highest point since mid-January.”

That surge has put pressure on DeSantis to take formal steps to limit the spread. He has, to date, resisted those efforts — including any reconsideration of his order that kids returning to school in the state don’t need to wear masks.

“We need our kids to be able to be kids,” DeSantis said late last week. “We need them to be able to breathe. It’s terribly uncomfortable for them to do it.”
DeSantis has gone much more public with calls for unvaccinated Floridians to get the shot(s). “If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” he said at a news conference. “These vaccines are saving lives.”
That public service message, however, ran directly into DeSantis’ position as the heir to the Trump coalition in 2024. His campaign website was selling beverage-cooling sleeves that read “DON’T FAUCI MY FLORIDA,” a reference to the science-based guidance in regard to the pandemic offered up by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Depending on what you think of DeSantis, he has either been good or lucky to date in the pandemic. But the rising number of cases in Florida — coupled with the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant — poses a challenge that he hasn’t had to deal with yet.

DeSantis seems likely to be faced with a clear challenge sometime soon: Do what’s right for the state of Florida or continue to play to his 2024 ambitions by refusing to acknowledge that mitigation practices — masks, social distancing, etc. — are necessary and attacking the likes of Fauci.

The Point: Given the case numbers in Florida, things are likely to get worse before they get better. Which means that this is a major moment for DeSantis.

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