DeSantis debate brags about COVID research: wrong, says author

During the Fox News debate between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom, a study published in the scientific journal The Lancet was highlighted as justification for the Sunshine State's loose pandemic policies.

While the two argued over who was a “lockdown governor,” DeSantis crowed about his state's rapid reopening, saying, “In fact, the Lancet I just did a study: Florida had a lower standardized death rate for COVID-19 than California, adjusting for the way Florida's population ages and has higher rates of underlying diseases like cancer and heart disease.

With that adjustment, Florida has the twelfth lowest standardized death rate nationally among all states, compared to the fourteenth highest crude death rate.

Some critics of the strict public health measures implemented in many states in response to the pandemic have seized on this finding as evidence that strict practices such as staying home, masking, limited vaccination mandates and social distancing were not necessary to control the population. COVID-19.

But the study's lead author says this is the wrong conclusion.

“Like [DeSantis] To use the study as an example to support the message that masks, staying home or vaccines did not matter in this pandemic would be using the study inappropriately – because that is not what it shows,” said Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank.

“The governor aggressively promoted this behavior early on. And the reality is that even as he began to turn away from that behavior in 2021, Floridians continued to adopt it, and at rates above the national average,” Bollyky said in an interview.

Through mid-2022, Floridians ranked in the top half of states for vaccine coverage and mask use, and in the top quartile of states for reduced mobility (how often people stayed home compared to pre-pandemic times).

Mobility statistics came from four sources of mobile phone GPS data, which were used to calculate daily mobility compared to before the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, wearing mask, right, watches as a dose of COVID-19 vaccine is administered at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Jan. 4, 2021.

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

In a sequel analysis written by Bollyky and two co-authors at the website Think Global Health, there are several explanations for why Florida did relatively well compared to other states. Among them: The state “adopted aggressive nursing home policies early on, testing and collecting restrictions to slow the spread of the virus — at a faster pace than even most states led by Democratic governors — and promoting vaccination among the elderly.”

“Early in the pandemic, the governor was quite aggressive in trying to reach the older population about the need to be cautious,” Bollyky said. “And those messages persisted.”

The analysis – which covered the period from the start of the pandemic through the end of July 2022 – found that Florida's early policies encouraged residents to stay home, get vaccinated and wear masks at a higher rate than most other states, even after health mandates were imposed. cancelled.

Among the strict steps DeSantis took, the analysis said, was isolating COVID patients in nursing homes and banning visitors; close schools in March 2020 and keep them closed for the rest of the academic year; And residents say to avoid gatherings that could turn into super-spreader events.

People wear masks at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

People wearing masks walk to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021. Florida was one of the first states to open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over the age of 65.

(Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

“DeSantis was one of only four governors to reopen schools in the fall of 2020, but Florida was otherwise still slower to lift restrictions on gatherings and close bars and restaurants than most Republican-led states,” according to the analysis.

And DeSantis was an early champion of COVID-19 vaccines for seniors, he says January 2021, “we want shots in arms.” That conflicts with his final humiliationsuggesting that Florida residents who received the newly updated vaccinations were “guinea pigs” for “injections that have not been proven to be safe or effective,” despite strong evidence on the contrary, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

News articles in late 2021 reported efforts by some local governments and residents to take precautionary measures, including mask. Miami-Dade County officials ordered County employees should get vaccinated or tested regularly in response to the Delta wave in mid-2021. Public schools in Miami Dade, Broward And palm tree beach counties had implemented mask mandates Through November 2021.

During the first Omicron wave in late 2021, there were jury trials paused in Miami-Dade County courts, and with some concert promoters cancelled events.

The cautious health behavior persisted among some Floridians even as DeSantis moved between the Delta and first Omicron peaks in 2021 prohibit vaccine mandates and scrap mask mandates.

A notable example of the change in approach is the governor scolded students for wearing face masks during an indoor press conference in early 2022. “You don't have to wear those face masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it doesn't do anything. And we have to stop this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” DeSantis told them. Some students took them off, while others kept them on.

In early 2021, DeSantis began emphasizing a “medical freedom” agenda analysis noted, with his appointed surgeon general later defying federal recommendations and discouraging COVID-19 vaccinations. The analysis found that overall vaccination rates for schoolchildren in Florida fell to a decade low, and flu shot uptake for adults fell during the pandemic, even as it rose nationally.

“If these trends continue and extend to other public health measures, the state will be less safe,” the report said.

During this past autumn and winter – a period not covered by the Lancet study – COVID-19 booster rates among Florida seniors lagged severely. As of late spring, only 31% had received the updated shot, below the national rate of 43% and California's rate of 48%.

What complicates any comparison between Florida and California, however, is the sheer number of ways to calculate COVID mortality rates.

There's the crude death rate, which Newsom alluded to during the televised confrontation with DeSantis on Nov. 30. He said Florida had a 29% lower death rate per capita compared to California. A spokesperson later said this is based on statistics from the CDC's online COVID Data Tracker, which lists 110,208 deaths for California and 81,238 for Florida.

Adjusted for population – 39 million for California and 22 million for Florida, according to mid-2022 US Census estimates – the numbers equal 365.2 COVID deaths for every 100,000 Florida residents and 282.4 COVID deaths for every 100,000 California residents.

There are also age-adjusted statistics, which explain that demographically, California's population is relatively younger than Florida's. According to the CDC, Florida has an age-adjusted rate of 253 deaths per 100,000 residents, nominally higher than California's 249 deaths per 100,000 residents.

For 2021 — the pandemic's deadliest calendar year nationally — the agency calculates Florida's age-adjusted death rate at 111.7 per 100,000 residents, about 12% worse than California's.

But then there's the standardized rate from the Lancet study cited by DeSantis, which was adjusted not only for age but also for the fact that Florida has higher rates of chronic disease. By that measure, Florida had a death rate of 313 per 100,000 residents; California's was 34% worse, at 418 per 100,000 residents.

Some argue that California's pandemic policies were based on science and saved many lives; others argue that Florida has done better without restricting rights; and still others say it's foolhardy to compare the two, given the vast differences over which politicians and policymakers had no control.

In some camps, the narrative has become, “Florida did better than you would expect overall, but they did poorly on vaccination when the Delta wave came,” Bollyky said. But even that more nuanced view doesn't provide a complete picture, he said.

“Our research spanned two and a half years. So said [Florida] did poorly for three months, which is like saying they didn't do well in the sixth inning but did pretty well overall in the game,” Bollyky said. “That's true, but it also doesn't really address what the Florida story is supposed to tell people — which is… that [officials] did their work early, and then the population continued to do their work.

“And in some ways, the governor has failed to give himself credit for what he did early on — presumably for political reasons — and failed to give Floridians credit for what they've done during the pandemic .”

The original Lancet study also refutes the perception that lives were prioritized by sacrificing the economy and education. Nearly all states — whether led by Republicans or Democrats — instituted health mandates in the early months of the pandemic, Bollyky said. The large divide emerged after the Delta Wave hit in the summer of 2021, when Democratic-leaning states were more likely to impose new pandemic policies.

Notably, the Lancet study found no association between higher or lower state gross domestic product and higher or lower coronavirus infections or deaths.

“With the exception of restaurant closures, none of the policy mandates we studied – stay-at-home orders, gathering restrictions, school closures, gym or pool closures, mask mandates, vaccine mandates – were associated with lower GDP or rural employment. state level,” Bollyky said.

In terms of the overall strength of the economy, “there was no choice between public health and the economy. At least that is not apparent from our data,” says Bollyky. “You don't see a national connection between 'lockdown' and 'free' states and better economies.”

The pandemic coincided with a decline in educational achievement in the US, the Lancet study said, but the data analyzed did not indicate that learning losses were systematically associated with K-12 school closures at the state level.

“California, a state with prolonged school closures during the pandemic, experienced test score declines that were similar to or smaller than those in Florida and Maine, states with low school closure rates,” the study said.

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