Editorial: When it comes to helping us recover from COVID, DeSantis gives with one hand, slaps with the other

©Miami Herald

Ron DeSantis answers questions while First Lady Casey DeSantis listens following a roundtable discussion regarding mental health at the downtown Tampa Firefighter Museum on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. - Ivy Ceballo/Times/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

Good people can have an honest disagreement over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to leave the state open for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly helped some businesses stay afloat, even if it dismayed residents looking for stricter lockdown measures to contain the virus that has killed more than 34,000 Floridians.

It’s easy to understand DeSantis’ motivation to stave off an economic disaster. If you look at the pandemic from that prism, he has succeeded. At 4.7%, the state’s unemployment rate falls below the national average of 6.2%.

We can’t complain about that.

But what’s mystifying is how DeSantis has also done his best to undermine the use of mitigating measures such as masks and, now, so-called “vaccine passports” that could be our ticket back to a some semblance of normal.

DeSantis has hosted roundtable discussions with experts, including controversial former White House adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, who doubt the efficacy of masks. He’s often seen not wearing one.

In an April 2 executive order, DeSantis banned businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers. His move prompted the South Beach Wine & Food Festival to walk back its plan to require guests to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccine. The event, the first major food festival in the nation since the coronavirus outbreak began, is expected to draw 20,000 visitors to South Florida in late May.

Brandishing his conservative credentials, DeSantis defended his move as necessary to protect private medical information. But his approach shows inconsistency for a governor who has vowed to stay out of how private enterprise and individuals conduct themselves during the pandemic.

It is one thing for governments to mandate people get vaccinated. It’s another when businesses battered by the pandemic incorporate proof of vaccination into their plans to get back on their feet.

The irony is that, just last week, DeSantis and other Republicans stood at PortMiami to announce a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow cruises to resume.

Cruises were a hotbed of transmission early in the pandemic, and several companies, including Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, have announced they will require some or all passengers and crew members to be vaccinated in an effort to accelerate approvals to resume sailing. DeSantis’ office told the Sun Sentinel this week that his executive order extends to cruise lines operating in Florida — which could set up a legal battle.

Why is DeSantis working on behalf of the cruise industry and, at the same time, undermining its efforts to put passengers and federal regulators at ease?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, DeSantis has walked a tight rope.

He has one eye — barely — on the average Floridian who believes in masks, vaccines and wants to feel safe going out in public — the voters he needs for his gubernatorial re-election bid in 2022.

Meanwhile, he’s got the other eye on Mar-a-Lago and a smaller segment of voters who believe the pandemic is being blown out of proportion and that mandating masks will turn us into socialists. Donald Trump and his base are the voters DeSantis needs for his rumored 2024 presidential run.

Not coincidentally, those same voters are the ones who tell pollsters they won’t take the vaccine.

DeSantis is a man with aspirations. The more he battles against vaccine passports, the media and mask mandates, the better his standing is nationally among conservatives. Businesses trying to do the right thing and Floridians desperate for a sense of normalcy are, unfortunately, just collateral damage.