Dateline Florida: Masking the Gunshine State’s Problems


By J.C. Bruce

I have been assigned by Tropic Press to write this new periodic dispatch from the Gunshine State, an effort to provide a fair and balanced perspective on news emanating from this subtropical paradise that may seem confusing, confounding, and, perhaps, utterly crazy to outsiders.

We’ll begin this unbiased and totally objective report with a look at how Florida Gov. Ron Deathsantis has responded to the skyrocketing climb in COVID-19 infections that have moved Florida into the unenviable rank as the No. 1 most dangerous state to live in—if you have an interest in breathing.

A man of action, Deathsantis has taken two bold steps. First, throwing down the latex gauntlet, the governor declared he may call the state Legislature into special session to combat a terrifying new threat related to the pandemic.

That threat? Turns out some school districts are thinking maybe it would be a good idea for kids to continue to wear masks when classrooms reopen in August.

Can’t have that!

The governor said he will order the state departments of health and education to issue emergency rules taking this school safety decision out of the hands of educators and allowing parents to decide. (Can you say slippery slope?)

All this is in the face of an urgent recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control that all K-12 schools should require mask wearing indoors regardless of vaccination status. The new Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading at—literally—breathtaking speed, is vastly more dangerous than the original, and hospitalizations are soaring. Florida, alone, now accounts for 20 percent of all the new cases in America.

But Florida’s governor has a consistent history of ignoring scientific advice. At the peak of the pandemic, citing economic benefits that overrode health concerns (the cure can’t be worse than the sickness, after all) he reopened beaches, amusement parks, restaurants, and even wrestling matches. He refutes suggestions that political benefits also override health concerns, denying his decisions have anything to do with his overweening efforts to position himself as Donald (Pass the Clorox) Trump’s successor.

The state teacher’s union is screaming bloody murder over the anti-mask mandate. The very few Democrats in elected office are similarly apoplectic. Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando said the governor was prioritizing his political interests “over the health and wellbeing of Floridians.”

But Republicans in the state Legislature applauded the new orders. Forcing students to wear masks “is not in keeping with Florida values,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

One of those values appears to be adopting a head-in-the sand attitude to other crises. You may have read about the hundreds of tons of dead fish washing ashore in the Tampa Bay area, part of a gigantic Red Tide kill exacerbated by the discharge of millions of gallons of wastewater from an old phosphate mine.

Phosphate makes an excellent fertilizer, and the Red Tide algae love it. Now the fish-killing bloom is cruising down the coastline. The fumes from the algae are toxic and hospitals are treating patients suffering from its affects—on top of the coronavirus surge.

Unsurprisingly, when the governor was begged to declare a state of emergency over the fish kill, he demurred. Why? Well, it would be bad for the economy, of course.

But there is a bit of good news. The supply of masks should be plentiful now that schools will, evidently, need fewer of them. And if you’re anywhere near the beach, they not only block viruses but may help filter those obnoxious Red Tide fumes, too.

J.C. Bruce is a journalist and author

living in Naples. His mystery series,

The Strange Files, is available at all

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