A free-market advocate who helped advise Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on how to combat COVID-19 said on Feb. 28 that the state’s success navigating the pandemic stemmed from a flexible approach.
“When the virus initially hit, no one knew what to do, really, anywhere in the country. All of the ‘experts’ were wrong initially. And so after the initial two-week lockdown, if you remember ‘two weeks to slow the spread,’ Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to do really three things,” Robert McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute, told The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” program during CPAC 21 in Florida.
“He said, first we’re going to protect the most vulnerable, which were the elderly—Florida has the second-largest elderly population in the country. We were going to protect the immunocompromised, those with issues all around the state. And then third, we’re not going to close down our state’s economy; we are going to socially distance, we’re going to wear masks where appropriate, but we are going to trust the people of Florida to make the decisions that were best for them.”
McClure’s think tank, based in Tallahassee, was part of a reopening task force that DeSantis took advice from when deciding which rules to issue in 2020.
DeSantis, like the overwhelming majority of governors in the country, forced many businesses to close down in March 2020 and enacted restrictions on individuals. But he was among the first governors to ease rules, as state officials chose to focus on protecting the elderly and others with serious underlying illnesses while keeping statewide restrictions light for the general population.
“Every Floridian has a right to earn a living and all businesses have a right to operate,” DeSantis, a Republican, told a crowd at CPAC. “Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong.”
According to federal data, Florida has seen 144 deaths involving COVID-19 per 100,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic. That compares favorably with large states that enacted stricter measures. New York, for instance, has seen 245 deaths per 100,000 residents.
McClure noted that Florida is a diverse state, comparing Miami-Dade County’s 2.7 million people with the state’s smallest county, Liberty County, which has just 10,000 residents.
“There was no way that the governor could have kind of this top-down, one-size-fits-all response to this issue. So he allowed each municipality, each county to make their own decisions. And he said we are not going to close down the state of Florida. And so that’s how you had the genesis of keeping our economy open, unlike a lot of other states around the country,” he told The Epoch Times.
Lockdowns as a result of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, have wreaked devastation across the country, but Florida has done well to date protecting its sizable elderly population with focused measures.
“You have the second-largest senior population in the country, and many of them are vibrant and healthy and still work, and yet, they’re more at risk than, say, you or I. And so there was a level of quarantining if you had been exposed, contact tracing and those kinds of things,” he said.
“Those are all perfectly logical responses to a virus that has been devastating across the country. … But we never closed our economy. Small businesses stayed open; small businesses represent 40 percent of the state’s economy. Now tourism is the biggest driver of the state’s economy. Agriculture, tourism, and small business are kind of the three-legged stool for Florida. And so closing down those businesses would have been devastating.”