Though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) has spent the past several months touting his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in his state, state workers are expressing concern about how the virus is being handled in their offices.
Reporting from The Tampa Bay Times reveals that several state workers have told their union leaders that they aren’t being made aware about co-workers who have been infected, in many cases until 14 days after those who test positive for COVID-19 have left the office. Democratic lawmakers in Florida have also said they are getting complaints from state workers who fear being punished for sounding the alarm on their workplace conditions, where it is often the case that there are little-to-no mitigation efforts in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Many state employees live in fear of making any noise. They call us and don’t even say what agency they’re calling from,” Sen. Loranne Ausley (D-Florida) told the publication.
Like much of the country, state workers in Florida began working from home at the start of the pandemic, in March of 2020. However, in October of that year, DeSantis ordered that state workers return to their offices, where masks and social distancing are not required.
Since then, many state offices have been forced to temporarily close due to coronavirus outbreaks. For example, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offices were closed in July, with a sign in front of the building stating they were doing so due to COVID-19.
Workers have consistently been left in the dark when it comes to the virus, and often aren’t informed of critical developments until it is too late for them to take precautions for their health and the health of their families. Because the state of Florida doesn’t track COVID cases, even information on where workers are contracting COVID and how many workers have gotten infected is not available to them.
Vicki Hall, president of AFSCME Florida Council 79, told theTimes that workers are frustrated with their current situation, and suggested DeSantis is largely to blame.
“The workers are very scared. The governor wants everything open and running,” Hall said.
DeSantis has long bragged about his “great success” handling the coronavirus pandemic in Florida, even as his state has consistently had the highest rates of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the past several months. Florida presently has the third-highest rate of coronavirus deaths per day in the U.S. on a per capita basis.
What’s more, state workers’ fear of retribution for speaking out is well founded. DeSantis has long promoted monoclonal antibody treatments over vaccinations for how to best prevent hospitalization for COVID (in spite of evidence showing the opposite is true). After journalist Brendan Farrington noted in August that the governor may benefit both politically and financially from lying to the public, DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw threatened to put him “on blast” on social media if he didn’t change the content of his article. She continued to disparage Farrington’s reporting — while providing no evidence to prove the governor’s claims — even as he was bombarded with death threats from DeSantis supporters.
“Waking up in the middle of the night to see death threats and hate messages from people about a story @GovRonDeSantis office said is factually true,” Farrington tweeted at the time. “For your sake, I hope government doesn’t threaten your safety.”