PolitiFact FL: Pro-Donald Trump PAC’s video misleads about Ron DeSantis’ COVID-19 response
A pro-Trump political action committee, MAGA Inc., is portraying Gov. Ron DeSantis as a weak pandemic leader and a fan of COVID-19 lockdowns, ignoring that DeSantis was among the early wave of governors to reopen states.
[WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning organization seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.]
Former President Donald Trump has portrayed his campaign rival Gov. Ron DeSantis as a weak pandemic leader and a fan of COVID-19 lockdowns.
"Surprise, Ron was a big lockdown governor on the China virus, sealing all beaches and everything else for an extended period of time," Trump said March 22, a statement we found misleading.
Now a social media video from a pro-Trump political action committee, MAGA Inc., shows clips of DeSantis speaking in favor of lockdowns, vaccinations and following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance.
The clips of DeSantis are real, but the video omits context. Some of DeSantis’ statements came early in the pandemic, when virtually all governors oversaw lockdowns.
The video ignores that DeSantis was among the early wave of governors to reopen states. It also ignores that Trump previously praised the Florida governor’s pandemic response and that DeSantis often cited Trump administration guidance in his pandemic decisions.
Here’s a look at many comments excerpted in the video. We ordered them chronologically by when DeSantis said them and added context.
DeSantis: "The message, I think, for spring breakers is that the party is over in Florida. You are not going to be able to congregate on any beach in the state. Bars are closed so you are not going to have a place to congregate there."
Date of statement: March 19, 2020
Context: On March 17, 2020, four days after the Trump administration declared a nationwide emergency because of COVID-19, DeSantis issued an executive order urging residents to "support beach closures at the discretion of local authorities." DeSantis cited guidance from Trump and the CDC — known as "15 days to slow the spread."
Full quote: "The message, I think, for spring breakers is that the party’s over in Florida. You are not going to be able to congregate on any beach in the state," DeSantis said on Fox and Friends. "Many of the hot spots that people like to go to, whether it's Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Clearwater Beach, are closed entirely for the time being."
He added that the bars were closed.
"Every single beach will have to abide by the CDC guidelines, no more than 10 people, you have to be socially distant, not every beach is going to remain open, but some will."
DeSantis: "Some people say this virus is much ado nothing, don’t even do anything. And I was never in that camp ’cause I said back in January it was a serious public health threat."
Date of statement: March 24, 2020
Context: DeSantis said during a news briefing that state officials would work with Trump. But he also said a long shutdown would not be "sustainable."
Full quote: "You have some people that say, ‘Oh, this virus is much to do about nothing. Don’t even do anything.’ And I was never in that camp ’cause I said back in January it was a serious public health threat. Then you have some other people say, ‘We can’t do anything. We’ve just got to lock down and just maybe nine months or whatever.’ And I think both of those are false choices. I mean, clearly we’ve got to do something about the virus and there’s no way a nine-months shutdown would possibly be sustainable."
DeSantis: "Avoid crowds, avoid close contact. You should assume that anyone you may come in close contact with could be infected. Obviously, the easiest way to do that is just to simply stay at home as much as possible"
Date of statement: March 24, 2020
Context: DeSantis’ comments were targeted to older populations who public health officials had warned were at greater risk. During a press conference, he said his administration advised people age 65 and older to stay home for 14 days.
Full quote: "So we want to make sure that those folks are protected. I think the message has been for us from the beginning that if you are in that category, avoid crowds, avoid close contact. You should assume that anyone you may come in contact with could be infected. So, make sure you keep that safe, appropriate 6-foot distance or more. Obviously, the easiest way to do that is to just simply stay at home as much as possible."
DeSantis: "I am going to be doing an executive order today directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home."
Date of Statement: April 1, 2020
Context: By this date, the majority of states had some form of stay-at-home order. But the ad cut off the portion of the sentence in which DeSantis said he was allowing some essential services such as buying groceries, gasoline or medicine or taking care of pets.
Full quote: "I am going to be doing an executive order today directing all Floridians to limit movements and personal interactions outside the home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities," DeSantis said in a press conference. "And we have the list of essential services that is detailed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its latest guidance."
DeSantis: "We are No. 1 in the country for doses per capita."
Date of statement: Jan. 26, 2021
Context: Outside a Publix supermarket in Vero Beach, DeSantis announced an expansion of the state’s vaccination efforts. Health care workers and seniors had received the vaccine but millions of other Floridians wanted shots. Demand outstripped supply.
Full quote: "We’re hundreds of thousands ahead of the next closest state," on vaccinations DeSantis said. He also said, "We are No. 1 in the country for doses per capita for the top 10 most populous states."
DeSantis: "My view is is if you get a vaccine, the vaccines are effective. You are immune."
Date of statement: April 16, 2021
Context: After the federal health officials recommended pausing administration of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, DeSantis criticized the action during a Lakeland press conference, calling vaccination messaging "horrific."
DeSantis said officials offered "muddled" messaging telling the public to get vaccinated but continue to social distance and avoid restaurants.
Full quote: "My view is is if you get a vaccine, the vaccines are effective," DeSantis said. "You're immune and so, act immune. If you tell people the opposite, then, gee. Why, if it's not effective for them and it's not going to change anything, then what's the point of going through it?"
DeSantis: "The vaccines protect you. Get vaccinated."
Date of statement: May 3, 2021
Context: DeSantis announced in a news conference that he was suspending local emergency orders.
Full quote: "The vaccines protect you. Get vaccinated. And then live your life as if you are protected you don’t have to chafe under restrictions infinitum."
DeSantis: "If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero"
Date of statement: July 21, 2021
Context: Speaking in St. Petersburg, DeSantis said that Florida had no mandate for vaccinations, but said the vaccine was protecting older residents.
Full quote: "If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero," he said. "If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95% of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And, so, these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality."
Trump praised DeSantis’ early pandemic response
The MAGA, Inc., video ignores that while Trump was president, he praised how DeSantis responded to the pandemic and encouraged people to abide by lockdowns.
In March 2020, Trump expressed concern about young people gathering and said, "We don't want them gathering" at beaches and restaurants. He also said, "We’re asking people not to work" because they have to stay away from each other.
Trump on April 30, 2020, said he spoke with DeSantis the previous day and that,
"Florida is doing incredibly."
Trump was sometimes inconsistent in his messaging about openings and closings. But in summer 2020, Trump encouraged states to reopen businesses, churches and schools. Florida was among the earlier-to-reopen states.
Trump invited DeSantis on stage at a rally in October, calling him a "great" governor and praised the state for reopening.
- MAGA Inc., Video, May 22, 2023
- Fox News, Gov. DeSantis to Florida spring breakers: 'The party's over' March 19, 2020
- Rev.com, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis coronavirus briefing transcript, March 24, 2020
- Rev.com, Ron DeSantis Coronavirus Briefing Transcript, April 1, 2020
- AP, Birx travels, family visits highlight pandemic safety perils, Dec. 20, 2022
- Rev.com, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript, Jan. 4, 2021
- Clickorlando, Gov. DeSantis touts Florida’s vaccine rollout while expanding Publix program, Jan. 26, 2021
- WPTV, video of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Jan. 26, 2021
- WFLA, ‘Huge mistake’: DeSantis slams federal response to Johnson & Johnson blood clot issues, April 16, 2021
- WESH, Video of DeSantis, April 16, 2021
- Rev.com, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Press Conference Transcript: Suspends All Local COVID-19 Emergency Orders, May 3, 2021
- Fox 13, Gov. DeSantis: Fully vaccinated Floridians' chance of surviving COVID is 'pretty doggone close to 100%' July 22, 2021
- Politico, White House seizes an opportunity to whack DeSantis, Aug. 11, 2021
- Gov. Ron DeSantis, Press conference about 3 years to slow the spread and press release, March 16. 2023
- White House, Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing, March 18, 2020
- C-SPAN, President Trump with Coronavirus Task Force Briefing, March 18, 2020
- Rev.com, Donald Trump Coronavirus Task Force Update Transcript, March 21, 2020
- White House, Remarks by President Trump on Protecting America’s Seniors, April 30, 2020
- Fact base, Trump rally in Ocala, Fla., Oct. 16, 2020
- Local 10, DeSantis on Fauci: ‘Grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac’ Aug. 24, 2022
- PolitiFact, Fact-checking DeSantis on COVID-19 natural immunity, Sept. 15, 2021
- PolitiFact, Fact-checking Ron DeSantis' book: What 'The Courage to Be Free' glosses over about his record, March 2, 2023
- Never Back Down PAC, Statement to PolitiFact, May 23, 2023
- Email interview, Alex Pfeiffer, MAGA Inc. spokesperson, May 23, 2023
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