Democrat Charlie Crist denounced Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday as an “oppressive tyrant” willing to send coronavirus-infected children into the public schools and risk the health of other children to please his covid-skeptical political base.
During a Zoom press conference, the Democratic congressman from St. Petersburg — also a gubernatorial candidate for 2022 — argued that a new Florida Department of Health regulation giving parents autonomy to send their kids to class even if exposed or infected with the coronavirus, as long as they are asymptomatic, directly violates guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The regulation, issued on Wednesday by Florida’s new surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, threatens all the work local officials have invested in containing the coronavirus, Crist told reporters.
“Which is why I have called on Dr. Ladapo to be removed from office before the innocent children get hurt,” Crist said.
“The governor and his cronies have lost a grip on reality facing our state and are endlessly pandering to their base regardless of Floridians that they hurt,” he said.
“Because instead of listening to the experts, understanding the science, or following the lead of local leaders on the ground who know the situation best in their communities, he’s become an oppressive tyrant who now supports sending covid-positive children into classrooms.”
The new regulation countermands earlier guidance that kids exposed to covid should stay home until any virus has had a chance to clear their systems. Both regulations allow parents to decide whether their children should wear face masks to hinder transmission. About 10 school districts have imposed stricter mask mandates in defiance of the governor.
DeSantis has argued that federal public health authorities have issued conflicting and confusing advice about containing covid and that, in any event, younger people including children are able to slough off infections without serious symptoms. He has listened to advisers like Jay Bhattacharya of Standford University, who argue that masks haven’t been proven to protect against infection.
“The notion that the leaders at the top of the state on this issue would be saying it’s OK to send kids with covid into classrooms is unconscionable. It’s remarkably unbelievable. I can’t believe we’re going to have to address it this way,” he said.
“These guys went to good schools. I think both of them went to Harvard and the governor also went to Yale. I cannot comprehend what’s guiding him, I really can’t,” Crist continued.
(DeSantis holds an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard. Ladapo holds an M.D. and a Ph.D. in health policy from Harvard. Crist graduated from Florida State University and holds a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.)
The new regulation came one day after DeSantis announced that he had hired Ladapo to serve as the state’s highest medical authority. The doctor’s opinions about managing the pandemic differ markedly from the medical consensus — he has endorsed the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, for example — but closely align with the governors approach.
“Maybe it takes a graduate of one of our state universities like me to have common sense to be able to be not arrogant enough to listen to people, to listen to experts, to health care professionals, to physicians, to nurses, to front-line heroes on this issue, and take their advice and heed it, and spread that word, seriously, to the people of the Sunshine State and simply just to the right thing,” Crist said.
“This is not political,” he continued. “This isn’t right versus left; this is right versus wrong.”
Crist counseled the school boards challenging the administration policy to keep fighting.
“I would recommend strongly to the districts that have already had courageous, bold leadership on this issue to continue to do exactly that,” he said.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix