Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 20

The Orlando Sentinel on Gov. Ron DeSantis' actions at a recent Trump rally:

Mark down Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, as the date when Ron DeSantis officially stopped pretending that public health was more important than politics.

That’s when Florida’s governor walked into a packed Donald Trump rally in Sanford, high-fiving fans on his way to the stage. No mask. No social distancing. Just acting like everything was perfectly normal on a day when the state reported nearly 2,600 new coronavirus infections and 48 COVID-19 deaths (the next day it was 119 dead).

What an evolution for the governor since April 1, when Florida reported 1,027 new infections and just 15 deaths and DeSantis signed an executive order shutting down much of the state for nearly a month to slow the spread of the virus. His administration had previously closed schools, restaurants, bars and gyms.

He obviously didn’t like taking those steps. No one should. The governor at the time was doing what needed to be done to combat a public health crisis.

But DeSantis could never bring himself to issue a statewide order that people wear face coverings in public. He always seemed uncomfortable with them, often appearing in public settings without one and once famously wearing an N95 mask improperly.

His administration’s encouragement of mask wearing was largely half-hearted and perfunctory all along (with the exception of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who goes by Jared MASKowitz on Twitter).

The governor himself regularly failed to follow his own mask-wearing advice.

He came to Orlando in May with Vice President Mike Pence, and the two posed for pictures indoors with employees, maskless. Last month, at a recent announcement of his intent to crack down on protests, DeSantis was surrounded by sheriffs and police chiefs and top legislative leaders — not a single one of them wore a mask.

A few days later, DeSantis ordered local governments to stop issuing fines or other punishments to mask-order violators. We’re old enough to remember when he insisted — repeatedly — that mask decisions should be made at the local level. It was his go-to rationalization for not issuing a statewide mask mandate.

All that was just a scene-setter for the governor’s merry, high-fiving romp past unmasked rally attendees, on his way to the stage where his combative opening act for President Trump included this promise: “We’re not going to let them shut our schools. We’re not going to let them close our businesses. We are not going to let them shut down this country.”

This from a governor who did shut schools and did close businesses and did shut down the state because he at least seemed to care about the health and safety of Floridians.

That’s in the past. Nearly every move DeSantis has made in recent months was intended to get Florida back to normal, even as the number of COVID cases and deaths have settled into a fairly predictable but still-too-high pattern.

For example, in early August when deaths were spiking, the governor made it clear that resuming college football was a priority. When the Big Ten football conference canceled its season (it later reversed that decision), DeSantis used it as a recruiting opportunity, encouraging Midwest players to come on down to sunny Florida where everything was just fine.

Earlier this month, DeSantis’ office also made it clear that the Phase 3 reopening of Florida included no restrictions on capacity at sports venues. After losing to Texas A&M, Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen — probably taking his cues from the top — pleaded for a packed stadium at the Florida-LSU game scheduled for last weekend. Cooler administrative heads prevailed. They understood that a crowded stadium is an unacceptable health risk (and that Mullen’s defensive secondary needs more than a loud crowd to play better football).

None of that ended up mattering. The LSU game and this Saturday’s game against Missouri were postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Gators, including Mullen, who announced Saturday that he, too, had contracted the disease.

Coaches set examples. So do presidents and governors. And the example that DeSantis continues to set is that, when it comes to the pandemic, there’s nothing to see here and Floridians should just move along.

On Oct. 12, he could have sent a message by at least keeping his hands to himself and putting on a mask until he took the stage, demonstrating to Floridians that it’s up to all of us to behave responsibly, even at political rallies.

Instead, DeSantis ignored just about every bit of advice federal epidemiologists have to offer, just so he could do what’s politically correct to the president and his followers.

This pandemic is never going to end if leaders don’t start leading.



Oct. 20

The Lakeland Ledger on political advertisements:

This year, the political ground has shifted dramatically — and dark things are crawling out. It’s a rare opportunity for voters to observe the kinds of dirty tactics that often don’t emerge until just before Election Day.

As we all know, 2020 is anything but normal. Floridians are voting by mail in never-before-seen numbers, and elections supervisors were braced for high turnout when early voting started Monday. Campaigns can’t wait too long to send out campaign mailers, air commercials or make phone calls.

That puts the dirty tricksters of the political world in a bind. Many have decided they can’t drop deceitful, distorted attempts to smear opponents at the last minute; they have to take their shots now.

Here are some of the tactics we’ve seen so far this season, and ways you can keep yourself from being beguiled under false pretenses.

The problem: Partisan poison. Some groups are papering the state with mailers that, based solely on party affiliation, accuse candidates of extreme and sometimes ludicrous positions. Democrats are portrayed as reveling in riots, for example, with a burning desire to cripple police agencies. Republicans are often tagged with a callous disregard for public health in the midst of a pandemic, or a maniacal intent to destroy public education. Some groups mass-produce these mailers for use across the state, changing only the name of the candidate and the district number. The solution: When you see a mail piece or hear an ad accusing a candidate of radical, nonsensical beliefs, question it. Visit candidates’ websites and read news stories to find out what they’ve actually said.

The problem: Visually manipulative tricks. We’ve all seen campaign mailers that use deliberately unflattering pictures of candidates, or even manipulated photos to make candidates appear decrepit, demented or diseased. The solution: See these disgusting tactics for what they are, an attempt to deliver negative messages without engaging your brain.

The problem: Ugly, unsourced claims. Campaigns used to just throw mud and hope it stuck. The best defense against that has always been the question “Says who?” But today’s attacks are more sophisticated: They frequently include what appears to be a source. The solution: Look it up yourself. If you can’t verify a source, be skeptical.

The problem: Veiled attacks. Often, candidates don’t want to be seen taking their own cheap shots. That’s where political action committees and spuriously “independent” interest groups come into play. Campaign money can flow through multiple committees before it’s spent on an actual campaign, and greater secrecy is often tied to dirtier attacks. The solution: Read the fine print. If you see the name of a vaguely titled committee, ask yourself why these charges are being leveled by a relatively anonymous third party.

These aren’t all the dirty tricks, but they are some of the most common. Unraveling them takes time and effort — and all too often, voters are susceptible to the easiest trick of all. They believe what they want to believe. But for voters who value their independence and don’t like to be tricked, a skeptical eye can be your most valuable tool at election time.



Oct. 18

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune on what the coronavirus pandemic has revealed about elder care:

In our society, the nursing home occupies a niche so far out of sight and mind that we don’t have to think about it until we find ourselves inside one as a resident or visitor.

But the COVID-19 virus has brought nursing homes to our attention in a way we could not ignore. And it looks very much like we will be hearing those stories again — about contagion racing from room to room, and loved ones separated for their safety — as we move into a new season of surges in the viral spread.

The numbers have been stark: In our nation’s first exposure to COVID-19, elder care facilities accounted for an estimated 8% of all cases and 42% of the deaths — an astounding share when you consider that residents make up about 0.6% of the total U.S. population. According to AARP Florida, nearly nine out of 10 nursing homes in the state have experienced at least one case of the infection since January.

We should have seen this coming; these facilities have long been breeding grounds for contagion, and infection control measures have been cited as lax at some sites for years. The most recent long-term services and supports scorecard prepared by AARP, the Commonwealth Fund and the SCAN Foundation ranked Florida ranked 51st in the nation on long-term care excellence, down from 43rd in 2017. And this report was based on 2019 data, collected before COVID-19 came to call.

A state-by-state nursing home dashboard put together by AARP using monthly data on the pandemic finds that 47% of Florida facilities reported active coronavirus cases in the four weeks between late August and late September, compared to a 24% average nationwide.

We can continue to wallow in shame over this, or we can leverage the COVID-19 disruption into a full-scale revolution regarding how we provide comfort for the 57% of nursing home residents who are not there for rehabilitation or recovery, who are frail or cognitively impaired or both, and who will remain in need of care until they die.

Three respected aging specialists, writing in a commentary for the National Academy of Medicine, argue convincingly that this is a chance we have to seize. Instead of continuing to funnel Medicare and Medicaid money into 30-year-old facilities, they recommend that we redeploy those funds to train, support and sustain family and community caregivers — many of whom desperately want to be with their loved ones but simply cannot take on the challenge without meaningful help.

Our nation’s current long-term care scenario, which requires elders to burn through all their financial assets until they qualify for Medicaid, “is not a model that seems very enlightened or progressive to me,” said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation and one of the authors of the piece.

Fulmer and fellow author Christopher F. Koller, president of The Milbank Memorial Fund, believe that the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 disaster in nursing homes has made federal policymakers much more receptive to “good ideas that can be actionable.”

Koller said states should consider making permanent some of the emergency changes put in place due to the pandemic, such as paying for services rendered by family caregivers.

“The inadequacy of the current system has been put on display,” the authors conclude. It’s high time we started building a better one.