Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) touted his state's success in managing the coronavirus pandemic, keeping schools open, and protecting businesses from closing in his annual state of the state address Tuesday.
Speaking ahead of the start of the next Florida legislative session, DeSantis thanked COVID-19 first responders and legislators for their handling of the pandemic and drew a contrast between Florida and other states that imposed strict lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.
"I see, in many parts of our country, a sad state of affairs: Schools closed, businesses shuttered, and millions of lives destroyed. This calamitous reality is just the beginning of what will likely be long-term damage to children, their families, and this society. Sow the wind, and you reap the whirlwind," DeSantis said.
"While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up," he continued.
DeSantis highlighted that every parent in Florida currently has the right to send their children to school for in-person instruction and that businesses were permitted to remain open as well, resulting in an unemployment rate of 6.1% for last December, below the national rate of 6.7%.
"Friends, legislators, and Floridians, lend me your ears: We will not let anybody close your schools, we will not let anybody close your businesses, and we will not let anybody take your jobs!" he declared.
Turning to the state's handling of the pandemic, DeSantis emphasized Florida's efforts to protect senior citizens, who are the most vulnerable to health complications from the coronavirus. He noted that Florida's per capita COVID mortality rate is below the national average.
"From the outset, Florida has been steadfast in focusing efforts on the protection of our elderly population," DeSantis said, taking a veiled shot at New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's nursing home scandal. "We rejected the policy of sending contagious COVID patients back into nursing homes; indeed, we prohibited the practice. Florida also established COVID-only nursing facilities so that infections in long-term care facilities could be more effectively contained."
Florida adopted a "Seniors First" strategy of prioritizing the elderly to receive coronavirus vaccines, for which DeSantis was accused by NBC News of "playing politics with COVID vaccine" by making the vaccine available to groups more likely to be Republican voters. DeSantis did not address the NBC News narrative, instead remarking that "40 states have suffered higher COVID mortality for seniors aged 65+ on a per capita basis than Florida" and noting "hospitalizations for seniors in Florida have plummeted as vaccinations have increased."
"Florida was right to prioritize the elderly. Seniors First works," he said.
After discussing the old, DeSantis shifted to the young, praising Florida for being one of only four states to offer in-person instruction to 100% of its schoolchildren. He blasted other states for keeping schools closed despite evidence that suggests it is safe to reopen.
"Across the nation, millions of students have been locked out of the classroom for nearly a year – and for many there is no end in sight," DeSantis lamented. "These students have fallen behind on academics, have been denied the opportunity to participate in activities such as athletics, and have seen their social development stunted."
"The consequences of shutting kids out of school for a year, a year and a half, and heck, in some places, it will likely be two years, those consequences will be catastrophic and long-lasting," he warned. "The failure of so many places outside of Florida to open schools at the beginning of the school year will go down as one of the biggest policy blunders of our time."
DeSantis also slammed "economic lockdowns" as "a luxury of the largely affluent Zoom class," praising state lawmakers for allowing businesses to remain open. The governor shared a video of Florida residents sharing their stories of how Florida's policies throughout the pandemic have impacted their lives.
This is who we are fighting for ⬇️ https://t.co/zrJeC1kcuY— Ron DeSantis (@Ron DeSantis) 1614705895.0
The evidence for Florida's success, DeSantis said, is in how people are voting with their feet.
"There are not a whole lot of Floridians who are itching to move from Florida to lockdown states, but there are thousands and thousands of people who are seeking to leave the lockdowns behind for the greener pastures here in the state of Florida," he said.
"We have long been known as the Sunshine State – but, given the unprecedented lockdowns we have witnessed in other states, I think the Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn to live in freedom."
The governor also reiterated his support for legislative proposals to enact anti-rioting legislation, crack down on Big Tech censorship, and strengthen the integrity of Florida elections.