The Slatest

The Tragicomic Mask of Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis, wearing a mask, stands in front of National Guard members wearing masks
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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During a Friday press conference at the Urban League of Broward County, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis found himself holding an N95 face mask, the kind with two elastic loops that go around the head, not just over the ears. He took a gander at it, then grabbed the front of the mask with one hand and pulled the top loop over his head. He then touched the front of the mask—a big no-no—a second time, trying to adjust it over his nose and chin.

The adjustment was impossible because—as DeSantis stood outside in fairly close proximity to other people—the bottom loop was dangling loose below his chin, rendering the whole mask useless.

If it were a moment featured prominently within a comedy sketch, this would be pretty funny for those of us whose humor trends macabre. Perhaps not in a “ha-ha” way, but in a “tuh, I could see that actually happening” kind of way—unless it, you know, actually happened. Then it would be terrifying and speak to the ineptitude of America’s elected officials.

Unfortunately, DeSantis is the real governor, making real decisions—he declared WWE essential!—and wearing a useless-due-to-user-error mask on his face while attending a press conference addressing a pandemic he failed to take seriously. A presser that also happened to be occurring in the ZIP code that has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Broward County.

COVID-19 has hospitalized over 4,000 and killed at least 823 Floridians. (This number only accounts for Florida residents—including those who have died while outside of the state—and does not include nonresidents who have died in the state). The racial disparity in the coronavirus toll for Black communities nationwide is seemingly not borne out by Florida’s tally, but experts worry that omitted race data could be concealing any disparities. And available data do show that Black Miamians are dying at a higher rate than other racial groups there.

DeSantis has hastily reopened state beaches after sluggishly closing them, withheld information about the scope of COVID-19 in the state from the public, and hidden how bad things have gotten within the state’s carceral system. Despite the Trump administration reportedly admitting the president “pays close attention” to DeSantis’ requests because “Florida is so important for his reelection,” the state still failed to obtain additional masks for health care workers.

And then, having obtained a mask of his own, the governor demonstrated he hadn’t even learned how to protect himself. The slapstick scenario was psychologically confounding. Scale that frivolousness up to an entire state, and the result threatens to be immeasurable human suffering and loss.

This post has been updated with new data from Florida released Monday.

For more on the impact of COVID-19, listen to Tuesday’s What Next.