In the midst of the worst outbreak, New York admitted that it had undercounted the number of people who died from COVID-19. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been covering up the true toll of the disease for months. But these states were far from the full picture, as a new study from the National Institutes of Health shows the number of deaths from COVID-19 across the nation being undercounted by almost 30%. At the end of May, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 was already 95,000, but the real number likely should have been over 120,000. Despite continued Republican attempts to underplay the disease, COVID-19 is even worse than the official tally suggests.
As the temporary effect of statewide lockdowns evaporates under a blaze of new cases, some governors are belatedly pumping the brakes on reopening and a number of prominent Republicans have, at last, learned to love their masks. But with Anthony Fauci suggesting that the United States may soon see 100,000 cases in a single day, and Houston-area ICUs overrun, there are still several Republicans who have no interest in joining reality. That includes Trump, who hasn’t even bothered to mention the pandemic amid a flurry of statements on the stock market, the importance of saving Confederate statues, and lies about Black Lives Matter. And it absolutely includes DeSantis, who is demonstrating a disregard for the lives of Florida citizens that is genuinely horrifying.
The laundry list of things that DeSantis is doing to make conditions in his state actively worse is hard to explain. On Tuesday, the Florida Republican killed a program for online learning, vetoing the entire budget of an agency created and funded by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. The action is so inexplicable that multiple Republican legislators and officials wonder if DeSantis actually shut down the program by mistake. In any case, it DeSantis is leaving students with no options but crowding into classrooms.
If that wasn’t enough, DeSantis cut additional funds from the state’s affordable housing program, also taking away tens of millions from physical schools. He also indicated that he might take more money from affordable housing to pay for “pandemic response,” but not in the sense of protecting people’s health. What DeSantis means is rewarding companies who reopen and put their employees and customers at risk. And while DeSantis did sign a last-minute extension of a eviction moratorium that was due to expire on Tuesday evening, Florida continues to allow landlords to stack up evictions for immediate service when the moratorium ends. So far, at least 2,672 are scheduled to lose their homes.
As the state breaks records for new cases, DeSantis is making it clear that he’s charging on toward reopening no matter what. Because the whole idea that there were guidelines he was supposed to follow was always an illusion. “We're not going back, closing things,” said Florida Man. “I don't think that that's really what's driving it. People going to a business is not what's driving it. I think when you see the younger folks—I think a lot of it is more just social interactions, so that's natural.”
It’s just natural. It’s also just something that DeSantis has the ability to halt by limiting gatherings and enforcing social distancing rules. He’s not going to do that. DeSantis made it explicitly clear that, unlike the Republican governors in Arizona and Texas, who woke up and smelled their states burning, he’s not even thinking about protecting lives in Florida.
On Wednesday, Florida again reported over 6,500 cases, double its rate of increase a week ago. However, the Sunshine State is just one of many generating concern on Wednesday. Arizona—site of the most recent Trump rally, and a place where Mike Pence was dropping in for a visit roughly … now—not only shattered its previous single day record for new cases, it broke previous records for the number of deaths. Throughout the last month, red state governors have insisted that there was no reason to worry about the surge of new cases because those cases trended younger. That’s true, but that doesn’t make them proof against the devastating effects of COVID-19. Death is a trailing indicator. The death toll will rise as more cases are confirmed.
With Trump unwilling to do anything at the national level, and many Republican governors unwilling to safeguard their states, the burden of taking action has been more and more falling on the shoulders of local authorities. So it’s not surprising that whether your state is “hot” or “cool” when it comes to overall changes in cases of COVID-19, the numbers can vary widely within a state. Which makes a new risk assessment map from Harvard Medical definitely worth a view.
As the map makes clear, even states like California, where cases are going up rapidly, aren’t overrun by virus everywhere. Many states have areas where the risk of new cases is much greater, while some places are relatively safe and well-contained. Unfortunately for the people in Florida and Arizona, high-risk red is the dominant color in their states.
At this point in the pandemic, the virus has reached everywhere. This isn’t so much a map of disease, as a geography of bad decisions.