Miami Herald accuses Ron DeSantis of ‘not caring one bit’ about pandemic

Miami Herald accuses Ron DeSantis of ‘not caring one bit’ about pandemic
The governor ‘seemed to care not one bit about the health and well-being of most Floridians as the pandemic raged,’ the newspaper says

In a scathing editorial, the Miami Herald says Florida governor Ron DeSantis “seemed to care not one bit” as Covid-19 tore through the state last year.

The accusation came as an aside within a column about Rebekah Jones, the former Florida data analyst who says she was fired for refusing to fudge the state’s Covid numbers. Last week, Florida’s inspector general officially declared Ms Jones a whistleblower, which affords her certain legal protections.

The Herald’s editorial board praised that decision, calling it “a win over state secrecy for the rest of us.”

In the process, it also took a harsh swipe at Mr DeSantis.

“Of course, the governor, who seemed to care not one bit about the health and well-being of most Floridians as the pandemic raged, has a soft spot for the environment,” the editorial said. “Go figure.”

Mr DeSantis’ office fiercely disputed that characterization.

“I think the facts speak for themselves on this,” the governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told The Independent. “Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership and data-driven pandemic response, Florida’s COVID-19 death rate is lower than the national average.”

“As for the content of that Miami Herald op-ed, it’s misleading at best,” Ms Pushaw added. “As Taryn Fenske, Governor DeSantis’ communications director, has already stated: ‘Whistleblower status doesn’t substantiate any claims. It simply provides confidentiality, and means someone made a complaint.’”

Mr DeSantis has repeatedly downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus, which has killed 36,773 people in Florida so far. He ordered the state reopened in April 2020, just as the pandemic was reaching its earliest peaks in the United States, and has resisted new lockdowns since then.

“We’re not shutting down, we’re gonna go forward, we’re gonna continue to protect the most vulnerable,” the governor said in June that year. Over the next two months, Covid deaths in the state crept up to about 185 per day.

As cases soared, Ms Jones was working as a Geographic Information Systems manager at Florida’s Department of Health. She says the department pressured her to manipulate the state’s case and death numbers to look less dire – something that the Herald says is confirmed by evidence.

“So far, DOH emails reviewed by the Miami Herald show Jones was asked to remove data from public view after receiving questions about it from the news organization,” the editorial board said. “In addition, she has gone up against an administration that has shamelessly concealed vital COVID information during the past year. Unfortunately, the possibility of DOH manipulating information is not a stretch.”

The department fired Ms Jones, but that wasn’t the end of her ordeal. In December 2020, state police raided her home, seizing her electronics and waving guns at her husband and children. They arrested her on charges that she had hacked into a Department of Health messaging system and urged other employees to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.”

Ms Jones has denied the charges.

“They claimed it was about a security breach,” she tweeted after the raid. “This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

In its editorial, the Herald took an ambivalent view of the hacking accusation.

“Trumped-up charge? Who knows?” the board wrote, adding that Ms Jones does not need to be “perfect” to be a valid whistleblower. Its view of the governor was much less ambiguous.

An ally of Donald Trump, he has been spoken of as a possible presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2024.