How Ron DeSantis transformed into an anti-public health crusader

“In March 2020, in the uncertain first weeks of the pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis acted and talked like most other politicians. He shut down public schools and prohibited visitors at nursing homes. He expanded testing capacity and closed parks out of what he called a need to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on social distancing. By early April, he had issued his own version of a stay-at-home order and was urging his state’s residents to stay “spiritually together, but to remain socially distant.”
Three years later, DeSantis has transformed himself into the face of an anti-“woke,” anti-public health movement that blossomed during the pandemic — the leader of an administration that was willing to not only defy the public health consensus but to control and manipulate information in order to advance its narrative of a crisis that has killed more than 1.1 million Americans, including more than 87,000 Floridians.

A report this month from the Tampa Bay Time revealed that DeSantis’s state surgeon general had altered scientific data in order to justify his official position that young men should not receive the Covid-19 vaccine. DeSantis, who has criticized former President Donald Trump for deferring to public health officials like Anthony Fauci, has embraced conspiratorial talking points. He has suggested profits and not public health drove the Covid vaccine campaign and convened a state grand jury to investigate any “misconduct” on the part of drug manufacturers and the scientific community related to the vaccines.”

“What’s clear is something changed, and quickly. Within a month of pleading with Floridians to remain socially distant, DeSantis had begun to reopen the state’s economy. As months went by, he became more brazen in his willingness to bend the truth around Covid and staffed his administration accordingly. Within a year, he had hired a Covid vaccine skeptic as his surgeon general, who would later be accused of altering study data to advance that agenda, and was fighting cruise ships over their plans to impose vaccine mandates for their passengers.”

“In March and April, the governor’s approval ratings sagged. For those who wanted him to be aggressive in fighting Covid-19, he was not doing enough. For the conservative voters beginning to believe an alternative narrative of the pandemic, his response was an overreaction. As he fumbled through the first few weeks of Covid-19, DeSantis seemed to satisfy no one.

So the governor picked a lane. DeSantis sided with the Republican base upon which he would depend for his political future.

One public health expert who spoke directly with DeSantis around that time, who, like others I interviewed, did not want to be quoted by name for fear of retribution, said the governor referred specifically to senior residents in conservative areas like the Villages as “my people” and appeared preoccupied most with them when considering the response to the coronavirus. Later on, his vaccine-skeptical agenda reflected the mood of many conservative voters, who had glommed onto mischaracterizations about the risks of Covid-19 and conspiracy theories about the vaccines meant to stop it.

DeSantis’s pandemic response helped make him into a national figure, valorized among conservatives and villainized by Democrats and many public health experts.”

Studies Link Marijuana Legalization to All Sorts of Positive Public Health Outcomes

“Legalization linked to fewer suicides, traffic fatalities, and opioid deaths. A new paper on the public health effects of legalizing marijuana finds “little credible evidence to suggest that [medical marijuana] legalization promotes marijuana use among teenagers” and “convincing evidence that young adults consume less alcohol when medical marijuana is legalized.””

More Immigration Leads to Better Nursing Home Care, Says New Paper

“The paper found “strong and consistent evidence that increased immigration leads to improved patient care,” as well as a decline in hospitalizations corresponding with an increase in female immigrants.”

Need an Adderall Prescription? Good Luck Getting It Over Telehealth.

“During the early stages of the COVID pandemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily lifted restrictions on doctors’ ability to write prescriptions for controlled drugs via telehealth. However, the agency is poised to bring telehealth under regulation again, bringing back strict limits on how and when doctors can prescribe certain drugs.

DEA officials announced the proposed regulations on Friday. The rules would render most controlled drugs ineligible for prescription via telemedicine appointment—severely restricting patients’ ability to obtain drugs without an in-person examination.”

“However, the proposal contains several carve-outs. Under the policy, Schedule III-V controlled medications can still be prescribed via telemedicine. But patients would be limited to a 30-day supply, after which the patient would be required to have an in-person visit in order to get a refill. The same exception applies to buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid substance abuse. Further, under the proposed rule, patients can get indefinite prescriptions for controlled substances via telehealth but only if they are referred to a telehealth physician after receiving an in-person examination by another doctor.”

“Officials justified the regulations by citing concerns over the risk of overprescription of controlled drugs. While administration officials did mention the benefits that telehealth services bring to rural Americans, there is little consideration of how these services are equally important to many who rely on controlled drugs—and the increased risk that desperate patients will turn to significantly more dangerous drugs to alleviate their symptoms.
“As a health policy lawyer w. chronic pain & ADHD, I cannot overstate how unnecessary & cruel this policy is given what visits look like in person v. Telehealth,” wrote health policy lawyer Madeline T. Morcelle on Twitter. “Or how deadly this could be for those who struggle to get to [appointments] due to disability or transport/geographic barriers.””

Masks Make ‘Little or No Difference’ on COVID-19, Flu Rates: New Study

“The wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses had almost no effect at the societal level, according to a rigorous new review of the available research.
“Interestingly, 12 trials in the review, ten in the community and two among healthcare workers, found that wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to influenza-like or COVID-19-like illness transmission,” writes Tom Jefferson, a British epidemiologist and co-author of the Cochrane Library’s new report on masking trials. “Equally, the review found that masks had no effect on laboratory-confirmed influenza or SARS-CoV-2 outcomes. Five other trials showed no difference between one type of mask over another.”

That finding is significant, given how comprehensive Cochrane’s review was. The randomized control trials had hundreds of thousands of participants, and made useful comparisons: people who received masks—and, according to self-reporting, actually wore them—versus people who did not. Other studies that have tried to uncover the efficacy of mask requirements have tended to compare one municipality with another, without taking into account relevant differences between the groups. This was true of an infamous study of masking in Arizona schools conducted at the county level; the findings were cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as reason to keep mask mandates in place.”

“While individual mask wearers might get some benefit for a while if they consistently, perfectly wear masks, this does not comport with the aggregate experience.”

Believe it or not, we are not going to be sick forever

“Infectious disease experts knew this year might be an outlier. Covid-19 has been the biggest disruption to the normal cycle of disease in a century, and we know from prior experience that major pandemics can be followed by a year or two of chaotic viral behavior before settling into a more normal pattern. It happened with both the 1918 flu and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

For RSV and influenza, the past two years have been aberrations; it is reasonable to expect more normal patterns will resume in the future as immunity builds back up. (Still, every cold-and-flu season will be different — variation from season to season is a constant.)
“My guess is that this is entirely temporary and things will settle down into more routine patterns in coming seasons as typical population immunity gets back on track,” said Richard Webby, an infectious disease researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Covid-19 is trickier to project, given its continuing evolution toward more transmissibility. So far, the protection from prior infection and vaccines seems to be effective for most people, at least in preventing them from ending up in the hospital. But it also continues to pose a threat to the unvaccinated, the elderly, and the immunocompromised — and yearly surges when the conditions are more favorable for viral spread (i.e., the winter) are to be expected.”