Florida mayor: 'I’d ask the governor to rethink his agenda'

New confirmed cases of COVID-19 and resulting hospitalizations are skyrocketing in Florida, and the mayor of Fort Lauderdale would like Governor Ron DeSantis to rethink some of the policies contributing to elevated transmission.

“If there’s an ultimate political agenda trying to appeal to some sort of outlier group thinking that’s going to advance a person politically, I just think they’re misjudging what people really want,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “And I think that it’s ok to step back. It’s OK to say ‘all right, maybe we should change course.’”

DeSantis, a staunch Republican who is eyeing a 2024 election bid, enacted policies banning masks in schools and downplayed the latest Delta variant-driven surge while newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rose to new pandemic highs in the state.

“No one is going to blame anybody for doing the wrong thing because look, in government, we don’t always make the right choices,” said Trantalis, a Democrat. “But we do know that if we do make a wrong choice, we need to live by it and we need to accept the wrong choice and try to do the right thing. I’d ask the governor to rethink his agenda and try to work with all of the local communities in trying to keep people safe here.”

Hospitals in Florida are running out of ICU beds as they're being inundated with COVID patients, most of them unvaccinated. (Florida’s overall vaccination rate is 51.6%, which is on par with the nation’s average of 51.5%.) The city of Orlando is now asking its residents to restrict their water use in order to make sure there's enough to use as liquid oxygen for COVID patients. 

"Our hospitals are experiencing the highest number of unvaccinated, critically ill patients at this point as any other point during the pandemic," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said at a press conference on Friday. "Many of these patients require liquid oxygen."

Over the last 18 months, Florida has seen 3,040,590 total cases and 42,252 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. The Sunshine State also ranks fifth overall in terms of the number of cases per 100,000 people at 14,157.

“Keep in mind that it’s not just older people that are getting this disease,” Trantalis said. “We just had a recent death in our own police department, a 27-year-old young woman with a newborn child, a new husband, and tomorrow is her funeral. 27 years old, not vaccinated.”

'We have a public to protect'

Conservatives have praised Gov. DeSantis throughout the pandemic for keeping the state’s economy going, while health officials have criticized his moves as dangerous to public health.

According to Trantalis, “you would have to ask” DeSantis what his ultimate goal is with his attitude towards the pandemic.

“All I know is that as I listen to the folks around the country, those in the medical community, they’re insisting that masks are important to prevent the spread of the disease and that vaccinations are clearly the best choice in terms of whether or not this disease is going to ever achieve the herd immunity that we’re hoping to achieve,” Trantalis said.

DeSantis has come out strongly against mask mandates, going as far as threatening to withhold funding from schools that mandate students to wear masks.

School-age children are proving to be more vulnerable to the Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain of coronavirus circulating in America. Cases in children have risen substantially since the beginning of July and now account for 18% of newly confirmed weekly cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), indicating an increased going into the new school year.

“The reality is we have a public to protect,” Trantalis said. “Government’s sole purpose is to protect its citizens. If we fail in that, then we fail in our responsibility. The school board made the right decision. The school board is now being assisted by the federal government in any way that it can to draw up any of the resources that might be denied as a result of the state trying to take some sort of action against it.”

Broward County recently approved a mask mandate for schools and is now facing threats from the Florida Education Commissioner, who has warned that board members could start losing their salaries if they refuse to include an opt-out clause for parents in any county-level masking policy.

“We cannot tolerate this as a community, as a society, knowing that there’s a possible cure out there and then to ignore it,” Trantalis said. “It’s just playing Russian Roulette with our society.”

'The message of getting vaccinated just doesn’t seem to penetrate the culture here'

In addition to encouraging mask wearing, Trantalis is also working towards getting more of his constituents vaccinated.

“In Broward County, in particular, just over 50% of the people are actually vaccinated fully,” Trantalis said. “So what’s the message we have to make? What do we have to say to convince people that vaccination is the way out of this pandemic? We’re looking for ways.”

The foundation of his efforts centers around one key course of action: Following the science.

“We’ve talked about that since day one,” Trantalis said. “Last year in March, we closed our beaches for spring break because that was the science back then: Avoid close contact, try to get people out of cramped quarters in these hotel rooms where all these kids were visiting our state.”

Since then, he said, they’ve learned that there are more efficient courses of action. Beaches and hotels have since reopened, but Fort Lauderdale is strongly encouraging vaccinations.

“We have free vaccination sites all over the city,” Trantalis said. “We even started pop-up sites in places that we find that the vaccination rate is least utilized — for example, in many of our churches, especially some of our fundamentalist folks who seem to have an aversion to this vaccine. We’re going to their pastors and setting pop-up vaccination sites at their churches.”

The city is specifically reaching out to the homeless and Black communities. (Black Americans are less likely to have received a COVID-19 vaccine than their white counterparts, despite being disproportionately hit harder by the pandemic.)

This includes “setting up pop-up vaccination sites, asking their pastors to spread the word, to preach the word to say that vaccinations are the right thing to do,” Trantalis said. “But we’re doing it without fanfare. We’re doing it on a community-by-community basis. But we’re getting it done.”

The state as a whole, however, is struggling to break down cultural and politcal barriers to successfully fight off the latest surge.

“Unfortunately, Florida is a hot spot here in the nation,” Trantalis said. “One out of every five new cases is in Florida. It’s really difficult to have to deal with that because it impacts so many people. It impacts schoolchildren. It impacts our hospitality business. It impacts people just coming to and from work because the message of getting vaccinated just doesn’t seem to penetrate the culture here.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at [email protected]


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