Listening to Trump gave Sunbelt governors a new COVID-19 headache

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The temperatures are soaring this week in seven Sunbelt states of Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee. So are the number of new cases of COVID-19, and the pro-Trump Republican governors of these states have much to answer for. 

In the spring, when the weather was more temperate, the spread figures seemed to be under control in these states. And the governors, all Trump loyalists, largely followed the president’s lead in suggesting that once the weather got warmer, the coronavirus would, as Trump put it, “disappear…like a miracle.” 

Accordingly, as summer was upon us, they were quick to reopen their hotels, restaurants and bars, where crowds congregated in poorly ventilated facilities that became breeding grounds for the virus.

Trump and the governors were wrong to downplay the severity of the virus. The global toll of the pandemic is stupefying: More than a half-million lives lost, hundreds of millions unemployed and trillions of dollars of wealth destroyed. And COVID-19 has hardly run its course; another hundred thousand or more could well perish. 

With mounting figures, the public health and political grounds have shifted. We now know that proximity, congestion and time are factors that create transmission; and as long as the virus is with us, the public must avoid spending long durations indoors with large numbers of people to reduce the chance of being infected by airborne transmission. 

Florida has produced the worst results, and its Miami-Dade County has become the global epicenter of the spread. In June, the state experienced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, nearly tripling the percent positive rate of tests in a span of three weeks.

The coronavirus is surging nationwide, with Trump distorting the facts by claiming it is the result of increased testing rather than growing numbers of infections. The U.S. on Friday also surpassed 70,000 new coronavirus cases nationwide for the first time.

Trump has politicized the crisis, downplaying the risk and, until last week, refusing to wear a mask in public. The Trump-supporting governors have often followed his lead. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis owes his job to Trump. In 2018, Trump correctly noted that after he endorsed DeSantis in the Republican primary for governor, DeSantis’s “numbers went through the roof.” DeSantis won the general election by less than one percentage point, just about replicating Trump’s one-point victory in the state from two years earlier.

In April Trump praised DeSantis’s efforts to quickly reopen his state following a statewide stay-at-home order. But critics said that DeSantis moved too quickly and with little regard for the advice of public health experts. Clearly, the critics were right. 

Florida recently reported more than 15,000 new cases, the most that any state has reported in a single day since the pandemic began. On June 28 DeSantis said Florida was in “good shape” despite having the sixth-most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the nation at the time. 

Trump, like DeSantis, has been slipping in the polls in Florida. A Fox News poll has presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leading Trump by 9 points in Florida. DeSantis’s approval ratings have plummeted from 72 percent in October to under 50 percent in the latest polls. At a recent news conference, DeSantis was heckled by a mask-wearing activist, who said: “Shame on you. You are an embarrassment. …We’re getting record-breaking cases every day, and you are doing nothing.” The heckler called on DeSantis to resign. 

None of these Republican governors is likely to break with Trump in any significant way, least of all DeSantis. Apparently, in Republican politics these days, if you live by Trump, you die by Trump. 

James D. Zirin, a retired partner of the Chicago-headquartered law firm of Sidley Austin, is the author of the recently published book, “Plaintiff in Chief — A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.” He is a former assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. 

Tags #coronavirus #2019nCoV #contagion coronavirus Donald Trump Florida Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Sun Belt

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