Chris Cuomo: Why are DeSantis and other anti-mandate governors allowed to hold the rest of us hostage?

Yeah, sorry. No one’s in the mood for COVID advice from a guy named Cuomo, particularly fans of DeSantis.

But this clip makes for an interesting pair with Fauci’s point in the last post about people “encroaching” on the “rights” of others by not masking up. Mandates are designed to prevent that encroachment in theory. But there are two kinds of mandates at this stage of the pandemic: Precautionary mandates, e.g., requiring masks, capacity limits on businesses, and so on to limit transmission, and vaccine mandates, requiring the unvaccinated to get their shots as a condition of employment. Having both types of mandates in place would feel like overkill: If most of the population is getting vaxxed to satisfy their boss, why encumber them with precautions too? They’ve already taken the ultimate precaution by getting immunized.

Having one type of mandate in place but not the other would shift the burden for limiting transmission from one part of the population to the other. Precautionary mandates require the vaccinated to take steps to avoid infecting the unvaccinated; vaccine mandates require the unvaccinated to take a step that will prevent them from becoming seriously ill if they do end up infected by the vaccinated. We’ve spent the past week hearing vaccinated America grumble that the CDC has now shifted the burden back to them by recommending universal masking even though they’ve already done the one thing more than any other that’s likely to help quickly end the pandemic.

The riskiest option is to have neither type of mandate in place, where no one is required to take precautions to limit infections and no one is asked to get vaccinated to protect themselves. I think it’s perfectly defensible in August 2021 not to issue any precautionary mandates, or even to ban local governments from issuing them, as DeSantis has done. Mask mandates won’t do much to limit the spread of a variant as contagious as Delta (even Bill de Blasio isn’t reinstating a mask mandate on NYC) and limits on businesses are unjustifiable when the unvaccinated are consciously choosing not to protect themselves.

So in that sense, Cuomo’s kidding himself here. It’s not DeSantis or any other Republican official who’s taking hostages. Rather, it’s officials who who are still issuing precautionary mandates who are hostage-taking: They’re forcing the vaccinated to take measures to reduce infections on behalf of the willingly unvaccinated.

The fact that DeSantis is right about precautionary mandates, though, doesn’t let him off the hook for not issuing a vaccine mandate. He could require all state employees, particularly state employees who spend their workdays around groups of unvaccinated people, to get their shots. And he could allow private businesses to do the same of their employees. Instead he signed a law in May that banned all entities, public and private, from requiring proof of vaccination. Until recently that law had been viewed in terms of the burden it placed upon the general public: A cruise line, for instance, couldn’t demand that a passenger prove he’s immunized as a condition of sailing.

But could they make the same demand of their own crew? Increasingly, state and private outfits in Florida are pushing forward with mandates and basically daring DeSantis to stop them:

Masks will again be required at indoor county facilities in Florida’s populous Miami-Dade following new federal guidance recommending that even people vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear facial coverings. And in Orange County, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, the mayor went a step further and announced all 4,200 nonunion county employees will be required to get their first coronavirus vaccine shot by the end of August, and the second shot by the end of September…

For the more than 3,000 unionized workers in Orange County, Demings said officials were negotiating a similar vaccine requirement as nonunion employees. Some can be exempt for religious or health reasons, but others who fail to comply will face disciplinary action, Demings said.

Two days ago Disney required all employees working at any company site in the United States to get vaccinated. That includes nearly 60,000 staff working at Disney World, central Florida’s largest employer. Why is Disney suddenly laying down the law about vaccines? Because they’ve seen the COVID numbers in Florida lately.

A day after the state recorded the most new daily cases since the start of the pandemic, Florida on Sunday broke a previous record for current hospitalizations set more than a year ago before vaccines were available.

The Sunshine State had 10,207 people hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services…

“We’re seeing unprecedented numbers of patients, over 96% of whom have not been previously vaccinated,” said Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast. “So this is a very significant impact for our healthcare system, and for our broader community.”

Florida is now leading the nation in per capita hospitalizations for COVID-19, as hospitals around the state report having to put emergency room visitors in beds in hallways and others document a noticeable drop in the age of patients.

Cases don’t matter much anymore given the experience of the UK, which saw a huge surge in Delta infections lately but few deaths due to their effort to vaccinate the elderly and vulnerable. Hospitalizations and deaths are the important metrics, and Florida’s hospitalizations aren’t looking great lately:

Deaths are on their way up too but so far they haven’t approached the state’s winter peak. God only knows what sort of apocalyptic scenario Delta would have visited upon Florida if not for the millions of doses that have gone out to seniors there since January. As it is, seniors are staying out of the hospital but middle-aged people have been less lucky since that age cohort isn’t as uniformly vaccinated as retirees are:

The political problem for DeSantis is obvious. He’s built a brand based on his laissez-faire approach to pandemic restrictions, to wild applause from Republicans so far. No mandate, no restrictions, no school closures, he’s said to right-wing audiences, and has been greeted with cheers. My state won’t become a “Faucian dystopia,” he swore during one speech last week. In some respects that’s excellent, like when DeSantis went to war to keep schools open in Florida. In other ways it’s more nefarious: His crusade against vaccine passports is a cynical pander to the anti-vaxxers among the GOP’s populist base, believing that he’ll benefit in the 2024 primary. Compare the overall numbers on this question to the Republican numbers:

There’d be no substantive contradiction between DeSantis doing away with precautionary mandates while embracing vaccine mandates tied to employment, but it would risk wounding him badly among those same anti-vaxxers he’s cultivated. He’s the guy who’s gone to bat for their right not to be denied access to anything, including cruises, simply because they don’t want the shot. Approving vaccine mandates would blow that up and create space to his right for some more cynical populist, possibly Kristi Noem, to swoop in and say, “You all know that *I* would never pressure you to get Bill Gates’s microchip shot, don’t you?”

DeSantis knows what the right thing to do is in this situation but he also knows that doing it would be bad for his career. When Trump-era Republicans are forced to make that choice (and they often are), they always choose the same way. Unless their names are “Cheney” or “Kinzinger.”

There’s one other wrinkle. Even if DeSantis encouraged private employer vaccine mandates, they might not move the needle as much as everyone hopes. That’s because vaccine skepticism isn’t distributed uniformly throughout the population. It’s more concentrated among less educated, lower-earning people. The AP notes that businesses that rely heavily on low-income blue-collar workers are staying away from mandates for now for fear that requiring the shots will lead to workers quitting en masse and thereby creating staff shortages, intensifying the problems they’re having with hiring. For DeSantis that would be the worst of all worlds, a move that cuts against his “brand,” doesn’t meaningfully raise the state’s vaccination rate, and leads to many Republicans landing out of work and blaming him for it because he was okay with their former bosses trying to force the vaccine on them.

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