Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, California and Florida have stood as polar opposites in how government should respond to the coronavirus.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom last year backed sweeping stay-at-home orders, and this summer supported targeted vaccination requirements and indoor mask rules. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis led efforts to ban health rules: he issued an order prohibiting mask requirements and signed a law banning vaccine passports — requirements by businesses or government agencies to show proof of vaccination to gain services.
A Los Angeles Times analysis found that of the nation’s 50 states, Florida had the worst COVID-19 death and coronavirus case rate for the summer.
California, by contrast, for the summer had only about one-sixth of Florida’s COVID-19 death rate, and one-third of Florida’s case rate.
For every 100,000 Floridians, 70 residents died over the summer, while for every 100,000 Californians, 12 residents died.
Higher vaccination rates and mask use indoors “have helped to blunt this fourth surge in California as compared to Florida,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, medical epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “We are seeing better application of public health measures in California compared to Florida.”
Of the nation’s 10 most populous states, Florida now has the second worst cumulative COVID-19 death rate since the pandemic began, with 262 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Only New York has a higher death rate — 281. California’s rate is 176.
In other words, if California had Florida’s cumulative COVID-19 death rate, an additional 34,000 Californians would have died. And if Florida had California’s death rate, 18,000 fewer Floridians would have died.
Some epidemiologists and infectious diseases experts say Florida was hurt by leaders there making statements contradicting those made by leading scientists and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advised by late July that masks again be worn again in indoor public settings.
DeSantis, Florida’s governor, has made statements contradicting the CDC, stating in an executive order that “forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.” In fact, there is plenty of evidence suggesting masks help: a study published last week by the CDC found that, in Arizona’s two most populous counties, schools without mask requirements were 3½ times more likely to have coronavirus outbreaks than those with mask rules.
In Florida, [University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy] Prins said she and other public health experts found their work and expertise criticized, misconstrued and politicized around whether masks work, vaccine efficacy and the merits of social distancing.
[Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which runs a widely cited forecast of pandemic projections] lamented key steps that could’ve inspired more people to get vaccinated. DeSantis, for instance, notably declined to get vaccinated in front of news cameras, and held an event criticizing government vaccination requirements, where he stood along side several workers employed by the city of Gainesville who said the government shouldn’t force them to get vaccinated, according to the Associated Press.
Thank you Governor DeSantis!