Fabiola Santiago: Reckless Gov. DeSantis moves Florida to Phase 3 crowds. He's a threat to public safety

©Miami Herald

Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS

Floridians should never forget this.

Late Friday afternoon, just in time for happy hour, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put his finger to the political winds — and ordered bars, restaurants and nightclubs to open at full capacity.

His decision had the predictable outcome of packing crowds indoors and out, and if you watched video footage or drove around Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, you could see throngs congregating and not wearing masks.

The gaiety can be deadly, but what the hell!

The governor says it’s OK. We’ve been liberated from local rule!

Young and old celebrated, jam-packed into places like Fort Lauderdale’s iconic Elbo Room, where the crowds spilled onto the sidewalk.

COVID SPREADING, BUT PARTY ON

South Florida wasn’t alone in the free-for-all debauchery inspired by the governor’s words.

In Tallahassee, where more than 1,500 Florida State University students have tested positive for COVID-19, the young took DeSantis at his word and drove some 700 cars to Tenn Street Apartments, where 1,000 partied along blocked streets.

Tallahassee police received dozens of calls all weekend about big parties.

They were no doubt also fueled by another ill-informed and demagogic move by DeSantis, who denounced university crackdowns on parties and said he would seek a bill of rights to protect students from being expelled for partying.

The university’s president had warned students that COVID is on the rise among them, but DeSantis undermined his authority — the same way he sought to usurp authority from local elected officials throughout the state.

MASK FINES SUSPENDED

The greenlight to allow crowds in places where social distancing is impossible to maintain — at a time when COVID spread is still a menace — might not have been as outrageous had DeSantis gone a step further and insisted that safety measures stay in place.

But, instead of encouraging Floridians to keep wearing masks, as health care experts advise we must do, DeSantis announced that the state would prohibit cities and counties from fining people for not wearing them.

COVID MISHANDLING TRUMP-STYLE

His reckless move to reopen Florida’s economy amounts to playing political calculus with a deadly disease, Trump-style.

His executive order to move to the Phase 3 opening caught local leaders off guard and confused business owners, but only Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber had the political courage to call out the governor.

“Your position on mask usage is clearly that of an outlier and, frankly, puts thousands or more of our residents in peril,” Gelber said in a letter to DeSantis seeking clarification and urging him to reconsider relaxing mask mandates.

“The overwhelming volume of health professionals, scientists and physicians believe that mask usage is critical to reducing the spread of the virus,” Gelber wrote. “I understand you have chosen to follow a small minority who hold a contrary view on this issue … if you are wrong, you are needlessly going to cause the infection and death of many, many people. Wearing a mask does not prevent opening up of our society or our economy. It is the one thing we can do which allows us to do everything else.”

Bravo, Mayor Gelber.

Boo to “desastre” DeSantis, who hasn’t even given the mayor of a city that’s vital to Florida’s tourism-driven economy the courtesy of a response.

“This is a political decision, clearly not inspired by an instinct to protect our residents or our economy,” Gelber said in a statement.

“Preventing us from enforcing rules requiring mask usage is senseless and will only get more people sick and impair our safe reopening,” he said. “Governor DeSantis is obviously trying to follow President Trump’s example, which probably isn’t the best idea when it comes to dealing with this pandemic.”

No doubt that Floridians need to get back to work, and that it’s human to yearn for interaction and entertainment.

But we need to open our economy safely and responsibly, following the advice of health experts who aren’t subservient to politicians — or this opening can easily backfire, causing more death and illness, and another blow to Florida’s economy.

Look what is happening in Europe and some 70 countries around the world that thought they had the virus under control but are now experiencing a resurgence of new cases.

We cannot let our guard down.

Mask wearing will be our way of living for a long time to come.

Don’t listen to DeSantis.

The Florida governor is a threat to public safety.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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©2020 Miami Herald

Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS
Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS