Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday touted his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that his willingness to buck the advice of federal health officials in some of the darkest days of the outbreak prevented his state from becoming a “Faucian dystopia.”
“Florida, we played an important role over the last three years,” DeSantis said at an event in Winter Haven, Fla., to mark the third anniversary of the pandemic’s onset.
“I think we were one of the first states to see the experts were getting it wrong, and we resolved to charge a different course,” he continued. “We are not going to let this state descend into a Faucian dystopia, not on our watch.”
DeSantis’s remarks amounted to something of a victory lap for the Florida governor, who’s preparing for a likely 2024 presidential bid. While he’s repeatedly brushed off questions about a White House run, he’s widely expected to make a final decision later this spring.
While he ordered a statewide lockdown shortly after the onset of the pandemic in 2020, he eventually carved out a national reputation as a fierce critic of many of the COVID-related restrictions pushed by federal health officials like Anthony Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Speaking alongside state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Thursday, DeSantis rehashed his long-running beef with the federal response to the outbreak, proclaiming that the “experts that designed” many of the pandemic-era policies — school and business closures, mask mandates and the like — “were wrong about almost everything.”
To be sure, Florida was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Johns Hopkins University estimates that the state has seen more than 7.5 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 87,000 deaths since the outbreak began.
Yet DeSantis’s laissez-faire response to the outbreak has been one of his most defining policy moves of his time in the governor’s mansion, endearing him to conservatives nationwide and catapulting him to the top-tier of current or prospective Republican presidential candidates.
Ladapo, a DeSantis appointee who has questioned the safety of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, also offered praise for DeSantis’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the governor made “the right decision” even when he faced criticism from federal officials and public health experts for his response.
“The reality is that Florida and Gov. DeSantis’s leadership and the decisions he made for this state, the direction he went, was absolutely correct,” Ladapo said.