In one of the more bizarre moments of Thursday night’s debate between Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom, the California governor seemed to bait his Florida counterpart into vigorously denying that he followed science when it came to responding to the Covid- 19 pandemic.
“You closed down your beaches, your bars, you resturants, it’s a fact,” Mr Newsom said. “You had quarantines. You had checkpoints all over the state of Florida.”
“You followed science,” he added. “You followed Fauci.”
Throughout the line of argument, the Florida governor continued to repeat: “That’s not true.”
And, in 2020, Mr DeSantis did in fact initially praise then-federal health official Dr Anthony Fauci, one of the top leaders of the US’s Covid response, according to a CNN KFile analysis.
Mr DeSantis later repeatedly villainised the health expert, saying at one point that he wanted to “grab that little elf” and throw him “across the Potomac”.
“You have a lot of people there who are working very, very hard, and they’re not getting a lot of sleep,” Mr DeSantis said at a March 2020 briefing, for example. “And they’re really focusing on a big country that we have. And from Dr. Birx to Dr. Fauci to the vice president who’s worked very hard, the surgeon general, they’re really doing a good job. It’s a tough, tough situation, but they’re working hard.”
During each year of the pandemic so far, Florida has had more deaths per capita than California.
However, an analysis published in The Lancet earlier this year found that California had a more than 33 per cent higher death rate if the comparison was adjusted for age and health factors of the respective populations.
Dr Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco, told The Los Angeles Times that California guided its Covid response with science “better than many other states, including Florida.”
“When you looked at the early curves of death rates, it was substantially lower in California than in many other states,” he said. “I think a lot of lives were saved at that stage.”
For his part, Mr DeSantis defended his Covid record.
“I had Disney open during COVID, and we made ‘em a fortune, and we saved a lot of jobs,” Mr DeSantis said. “You had Disney closed inexplicably for over a year. You are not following science. You were a lock-down governor.”
“You did a lot of damage to your people,” he added. “You had more kids locked out of school for a longer period of time in California than anywhere else in the country.”