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    As COVID-19 Cases Surge In Florida, VP Pence Visits State

    July 7, 2020
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    As COVID-19 Cases Surge In Florida, VP Pence Visits State
    VP Pence and FL Gov Desantis presser March 2020

    Florida has seen a record spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and on Sunday the number of cases rose above 10,000. In his response to the crisis, Governor De Santis has worked closely with the Trump administration with Pence promising more aid for the state in a trip this past week.

    On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence traveled across the state to see the situation first hand and meet with health care officials. Despite the spike, governor De Santis has pointed out the median age of confirmed cases has dropped to 36 – much lower than early in the pandemic.

    Pence's trip was also designed to signal President Trump's confidence in Ron De Santis, a veteran and Tea Party activist turned governor.

    "Ron's a very tough guy. He's a great governor, and I have tremendous confidence in him," Trump said in March.

    Earlier this year Governor De Santis imposed statewide lockdown orders after careful coordination and approval from the White House. On April 28th De Santis visited the Oval Office to discuss COVID-19 crisis and Florida's reopening with Trump before the state proceeded.

    At the meeting, Trump again displayed his confidence in the Florida governor. When Trump floated the idea that Florida might sever air links with Brazil at that meeting, De Santis responded.

    "Well, not necessarily cut 'em off, but it's just, if you're going to fly to Miami, then the airlines should give you the Abbott test and then put you on the plane," the governor said.

    Trump responded by saying if De Santis wanted to cut off certain countries from access to Florida "let us know."

    Florida was one of the first states to reopen after the outbreak swept across America in March. Florida thought it had largely seen off the first wave. It has not. Even as cases have soared, Governor De Santis has vowed there will be no return to lockdown despite the recent uptick in cases. 

    Part of that is due to the unpopularity of those mandates and De Santis has so far remained popular in opinion polls among Florida voters. One video posted on social media in late June that has been viewed 4 million times films a Wal-Mart employee attempting to stop a Florida man from entering a Walmart.

    There is no doubt the state has one of the most vocal and organized anti-mask contigents. In another popular video posted online, a different Florida man enters a Wal-Mart wearing a black mesh mask. On July 1st, dozens attended a protest in Sanford, Florida, to protests masks ironically using the pro-life slogan "My body, My choice."

    Florida was the first state to allow sporting events since early March when a UFC event was held on May 9th without fans. The event was considered a success despite the fact one of the performers Ronaldo Souza had to pull out of the competition when two of his cornermen tested positive for the virus. Professional wrestling was also allowed to operate again when it was deemed an "essential service" by the governor. De Santis has also made a similar allowance for religious services in the state arguing now more than ever the people of Florida need hope in the face of the Coronavirus. In mid-June, Governor De Santis even waved a green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400. Conversely, critics note that sporting events attended by thousands of fans are potential "super-spreader events" for the virus.

    Florida again re-emerged as a popular tourist destination for tourists in May. As restrictions relaxed, thousands drove to Florida beaches over Memorial Day Weekend. A visit to Orlando's World of Food Trucks over Memorial Day found dozens of patrons lined up outside of various food trucks offering everything from hotdogs to Dominican chimis sandwiches. Few were practicing social distancing, and license plates in the parking lot suggested many were out of state.

    The food truck festival is found in the parking lot of Machine Gun America, which did steady business over the holiday. At this local tourist attraction, visitors can pay a few hundred dollars to fire machine guns and other automatic weapons. Guests can choose World War II-era weapons like Tommy guns and Schmeissers to more modern fare such as AK-47s and belt-fed machine guns. It never closed due to COVID-19.

    Tourism once the life-blood of many Florida communities is one factor driving the spike in cases. The state has also witnessed large public gatherings of the kind not seen elsewhere these days. In the last weekend of May, some 100,000 people travelled to Cape Canaveral to witness the launch of a new Space X vehicle with astronauts on board. Few in the crowd wore face masks.

    Now with the surge in cases, MLS and the NBA are cautiously wondering if the new wave could de-rail their plans to relaunch the season with a set-up that might better resemble a monastery then a league.

    Given the situation help may soon be coming from the federal government.

    "The governor and I talked today about personnel, and we'll be considering a request from the state of Florida about medical personnel that we will be processing in very short order," Pence said during his trip to Florida last week.



    Joseph Hammond

    Joseph Hammond is a journalist and former Cairo correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He has written on issues ranging from boxing to international relations on four continents. He has also worked as a consultant on development issues and received a Fulbright fellowship to work with the government of Malawi.
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