From the beginning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisâ€™ handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been a course of secrecy, cold-blooded deception and negligence.
Now comes the raid by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on the home of Rebekah Jones, the ex-state health data analyst who started her own COVID dashboard after complaining that the DeSantis administration was twisting statistics to underplay the severity of the pandemic.
The governor initially said he didnâ€™t know about the investigation or raid. On Friday, he admitted he did, fumed about the term â€œraid,” and then huffed out of a press conference. Look for him soon on Fox News.
Seizing Jonesâ€™ computer â€” ostensibly to investigate a â€œhackingâ€ incident â€” has all the appearance of clumsy retribution for embarrassing DeSantis. So spongy was the stateâ€™s search warrant that it prompted the resignation of former prosecutor Ron Filipowski from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, to which DeSantis had recently reappointed him.
Filipowski, a Marine veteran and lifelong Republican, said that DeSantis has been â€œreckless and irresponsibleâ€ in dealing with the pandemic, and that Floridians â€œare not being told the truth about COVID.â€
A recent investigative series in the Sun-Sentinel provided sickening details about the depths to which DeSantis sunk to please President Trump, his super-spreader idol.
In late September, for instance, the Florida Department of Health â€” DeSantisâ€™ pliant Ministry of Propaganda â€” told county officials to stop making public statements about COVID-19 until after the Nov. 3 election.
News releases or media posts must not mention the virus, the order stated. It came from Alberto Moscoso, communications chief of the state health department. He left his job Nov. 6.
The motive for muzzling local health departments was obvious. Florida being a key state for Trump, DeSantis didnâ€™t want voters to be reminded that COVID-19 was on a deadly surge.
On Sept. 25, DeSantis himself ordered a full reopening of bars and restaurants, and sought to stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates. Between Sept. 30 and Election Day, at least 2,526 Floridians died of COVID-related causes.
That number, which came from the state, is probably higher. Real experts believe the stateâ€™s death toll has already passed 20,000. Many of those victims could have avoided getting sick, but we have a governor who has shunned medical warnings in favor of â€œblue sky messaging.â€
DeSantisâ€™ own spokesman has disparaged the use of masks and tweeted that the coronavirus is â€œless deadly than the flu.â€ That yammering stooge, Fred Piccolo Jr., still has his job, which is all you need to know about DeSantisâ€™ true priorities.
From the pandemicâ€™s early days, his administration hid key information about the spread of the virus in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and even public schools. Only the threat of lawsuits by family members, news organizations and patient advocacy groups has pried loose the data.
The governor habitually edits COVID statistics to paint the cheeriest possible picture. His latest spin is that most newly infected patients are younger, healthier and asymptomatic, which curiously fails to explain why hospital beds and ICUs are filling up with coronavirus patients.
Who in Florida can forget DeSantisâ€™ smug victory sit-down with Trump at the White House? That was more than seven months and 18,000 deaths ago, but the governorâ€™s arms are probably still sore from patting himself on the back.
Later he toured the state with Trumpâ€™s pandemic guru, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and Stanford University Fellow who doesnâ€™t like masks and preaches for a fully reopened economy.
Seeking infectious-disease advice from a guy who reads X-rays for a living is like hiring a dentist to do your colonoscopy â€” itâ€™s not exactly in his wheelhouse. The Stanford Faculty Senate â€œstrongly condemnedâ€ Atlasâ€™s position as â€œcontrary to medical science,â€ and he recently resigned from the White House.
Mercifully he has not resurfaced at DeSantisâ€™ side, but thereâ€™s still time.
These days â€” when heâ€™s not harassing the whistleblower who caught him fudging the COVID statistics â€” the governor is following Trumpâ€™s cue and focusing exclusively on the coming vaccines.
Like the President, DeSantis had little use for virus scientists until now, when theyâ€™re poised to save his political future.
Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University reports that new COVID-19 cases are doubling every 78 days in Florida . As of this writing, more than 4,500 persons are hospitalized here with the illness, nearly twice as many as a month ago.
True, lots of people who once scoffed at the idea of masks are wearing them now, but lots of people are dead who might never have been infected if their friends and loved ones had been more careful.
Or if weâ€™d had leadership that sent the right message from the first day, instead of spinning upbeat story lines while trying to gag local health officials who knew what was coming.
Heartsick families, packed hospitals, crushing unemployment â€” but in the DeSantis version of reality, nothing but blue skies.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172.)