Floridians Must Disrupt DeSantis’ Misinformation Campaign to Save Lives (OPINION)

Jul 25, 2020
12:43 PM

Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pose for a photo Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at Beth’s Burger Bar in Orlando, Fla. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen/Public Domain)

MIAMI — On July 13, at a press conference broadcasted nationally at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, I confronted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis about his abysmal response to the pandemic that is still affecting our state.

I did not sneak in. The DeSantis administration is rife with incompetence, so it should shock no one that I was able to enter his press conference by claiming to be a writer for a new emerging Spanish-language blog, armed with nothing but a two-year-old press pass. After waiting for about 30 minutes, Gov. DeSantis walked in while flanked by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, another incompetent elected official who has mismanaged the response to the current public health crisis.

Journalists have since asked me why I did it. Do I have a personal beef with Gov. DeSantis? Perhaps some partisan ulterior motive? But the answer is much simpler than that. I am outraged that every decision since the start of this public health crisis has been politically motivated with an eye towards the November election.

I disrupted Gov. DeSantis’ press conference to throw a hiccup in the steady drum beat of candy-coated statistics, misinformation and outright lies that have emerged as the overarching strategy for managing a pandemic that has claimed over 5,700 lives in Florida as of July 25—more deaths than in all but a handful of nations.

The latest COVID-19 data from Florida as of July 25, 2020 (Source: Florida Department of Health)

Predictably, DeSantis began the July 13 press conference by cherry-picking data and painting an alternative positive reality to the actual situation in Florida. I could not let him continue to use these sort of press events to mislead the public.

I could not listen to our governor tell us the spread of COVID-19 has been contained while firing one of the state’s top scientists for refusing to doctor the books, underreport the numbers of lives affected and lie about the vast scope of this virus in Florida.

I could not listen to him tell us how things are under control while he continues to kiss the president’s ring, continuing to insist that Jacksonville was the perfect place to host the Republican National Convention recently found homeless after losing support in Charlotte, NC.

I could not listen to him tell us our kids should return to school in the fall while school boards hold virtual meetings to determine if it’s safe.

I could not listen to him tell us masks are a matter of personal liberty when even Alabama has mandated wearing masks in all public places and California has already canceled the 2021 Rose Bowl Parade for the first time since World War II.

While some states across the country have improved their situation and in some cases are taking cautious steps towards reopening, Florida is having record or near record cases of COVID-19 every day and dozens of people are dying. There is no light at the end of the tunnel in the state, no horizon that shows the situation getting better.

Meanwhile it’s working class people and vulnerable communities who are struggling. People are losing their jobs and thousands of unemployment claims remain unpaid due to the Byzantine system set up by the state. Small businesses are struggling and have received little relief to weather the crisis. Immigrant communities that are disproportionately impacted face barriers in obtaining healthcare and testing, particularly the undocumented.

As infections consistently surge, Florida has seen a shortage of ICU beds in recent weeks and the situation has not improved, with NPR reporting that “Florida ICU could hit capacity ‘in days’ as health care workers face burnout.” This week, ICU Beds in Miami-Dade County hit 122% capacity.

The governor has access to professionals who can provide their expertise and guidance to confront this crisis, but at every turn has demonstrated a willingness to turn a blind eye to reality. We need our leaders to heed their advice while legislating and negotiating relief measures.

Unfortunately, we have seen public health experts maligned and attacked, with even Dr. Anthony Fauci suffering the arrows of opposition research heaped upon him by the very administration he works for.

What’s clear to see is that here in Florida we don’t have the political will or leadership to get us through this crisis. There is no plan and no vision.

Gov. DeSantis is not up to the task, and we as Floridians left with the responsibility of saving our own lives in the meantime, cannot in good conscience allow him to continue his unmitigated spreading of lies in the name of political expediency.


Thomas Kennedy is the State Coordinator for United We Dream and a Communications Fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.