Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is joining a long line of Republican politicians attempting to turn Dr. Anthony Fauci into the villain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for DeSantis, that pandemic is not over yet.
DeSantis officially launched his reelection campaign this week with a line of new merch centered around his anti-lockdown posturing, including shirts and beer koozies that say “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” a reference to the Biden administration’s chief medical officer and the most visible public health official during the pandemic.
“Shop the store and support your favorite freedom-loving Governor NOW!” the campaign’s Twitter account posted Monday, when the effort launched.
On Tuesday, the campaign released another koozie, which has an image of DeSantis holding a beer and the quote: “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?” DeSantis said this to a Politico reporter in February after he was photographed maskless at the Super Bowl, one of the deadliest months of the pandemic.
DeSantis has been antagonistic toward public health restrictions throughout the pandemic, going so far as to issue an executive order in March and signing a law in May banning “vaccine passports,” including requirements from businesses that patrons be vaccinated. Partially as a result of this, the Florida governor’s star has risen with conservatives; a straw poll taken during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend found that he was the only Republican aside from former President Donald Trump to register double-digit support in a hypothetical 2024 presidential bid.
Unfortunately for DeSantis, however, the pandemic is still very much alive and well in his home state, where fewer than half of all residents are fully vaccinated. After a long period of subsiding COVID-19 cases following vaccination efforts, cases have exploded in Florida and other low-vaccination states over the past few weeks, driven in large part by the more transmissible Delta variant, which originated in India.
The state has seen a 254 % increase in confirmed cases over the past two weeks as well as a 50 % increase in hospitalizations, according to the New York Times. In Florida as is the case elsewhere, vaccinated residents make up a disproportionately low rate of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
“The vast majority of folks in the ICU are unvaccinated," Dr. Khaled Fernainy, a critical care medicine specialist in Orlando, said in a Facebook Live forum last week. "They tend to be younger.”
On Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Lines sued the DeSantis administration over its vaccine passport bans, which prohibits companies such as cruise lines — where some of the earliest COVID-19 clusters outside of Wuhan began — from requiring that passengers and crew members be vaccinated. Violations of the law could result in fines of up to $5,000 per violation. A spokesperson referred to Norwegian’s restrictions as “widespread discrimination” in a statement to the Washington Post.
“We believe Florida’s prohibition is on the wrong side of federal law, public health, science and is not in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit, therefore, we have reluctantly turned to the courts for relief,” the company that owns Norwegian said in a statement to the Washington Post.