COVID vaccine

Nearly one-third of Florida voters say ending the COVID-19 pandemic is a critical issue, but when it comes to how to do that, Democrats are more confident in vaccines than Republicans in what a new poll confirms is an information environment influenced by partisanship.

A University of South Florida July 15-25 survey of 600 state voters that found 29% of respondents said COVID-19 is the most important issue with 38% of Democrats, 32% of Independents and 22% of Republican respondents identifying it as No. 1. The economy was second No. 1 issue among 13.3%.

In response to a query gauging if respondents were “very or somewhat confident” in vaccines, 86.1% of Democrats and 70,7% of Independents said they were. Only half Republican respondents agreed.

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In assessing Florida’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis compared to other states, 42% said “better,” 34.3% said “worse” and 18.8% said “just about the same.” Of Democrats polled, 54.4% said it was handled worse than other states while 68% of Republicans said Florida responded to the pandemic better.

The survey found most Floridians approve of the job both DeSantis and President Joe Biden are doing in dealing with the pandemic with 52% praising the governor’s performance and 61% endorsing the president’s actions.

DeSantis has spared no oxygen in criticizing Biden’s performance and, as he eyes a potential 2024 presidential run, wastes no opportunity to ensure partisan divides remain in perception of the pandemic.

The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Tuesday recommended wearing indoor masks, even by the vaccinated, and is expected to call for masks when students return to classes next month.

DeSantis said the CDC is not guided by medical science but “political science,” Tuesday evening on the Mark Levin Show, adding CDC’s likely school guidance will have students “muzzled with the mask even though COVID is no risk to the kid.”

DeSantis said the “terrible messaging” from the Biden administration “is sending a message you’re somehow less of an American if you make choices.”

Florida has no plans to resume daily reporting of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths after moving to weekly reports last spring, he said.

“What’s the point of tracking these cases the way we’re tracking the cases if, in fact, we believe the vaccines protect you from severe outcome but may not necessarily protect you from testing positive?” DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ comments drew responses from the three Democrats seeking their party’s nod to challenge him in November 2022.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor, Tuesday told MSNBC “the governor’s playing Russian roulette with this issue” calling on DeSantis to stop running for president on conservative media outlets and get back to being the governor.

“The job of being the governor of Florida is an important job. I used to have it and it matters and it makes a difference in people’s lives. And if he (DeSantis) would simply advocate for people to wear masks and get the vaccine, he could have a major impact in making Florida healthier,” Crist said.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat, said DeSantis is trying hide the facts about the surge, noting the state “has not resumed the daily sharing of public health information even as Florida leads the nation in new cases.”

Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, urged DeSantis to declare an emergency as the state sees “similar infection and hospitalization rates that occurred in June 2020 when we witnessed peak infection rates, intubations and deaths. In order to save lives, our hospitals need the help of the state and federal government to provide the critical resources they need.”