New study shows DeSantis-led Florida outperformed Newsom’s California during pandemic

We are a long way away from November 2024, a lifetime away in the terms of politics, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) may prove to be the pairing presented to the American people as they choose our next president.

While much will have to happen to bring that about, comparisons between the two governors and their states are already underway, and nowhere are the differences starker than in the actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Joel Zinberg, director of Paragon Health Institute’s Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative, penned an editorial published by Fox News that declared Florida the winner in such a comparison, with the piece noting that the states that “eschewed federal proclamations” seemed to fare better than states that opted for “severe measures.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic elicited unprecedented government interventions into American life. Yet, the stringency and duration of government measures varied considerably across the U.S.,” Zinberg wrote.

“A new Paragon Health Institute study we coauthored confirms what many long suspected: more severe lockdowns did not significantly improve health outcomes but led to much worse economic and education outcomes,” he said. “States that eschewed federal proclamations tended to do far better than states that adopted severe measures, like closing businesses and schools.”

Zinberg reminded readers that the U.S. Constitution generally reserves public health decisions to the states, this contributing to the idea that the states “are the laboratories of democracy.”

He then compared the “natural experiment” each state presented, with an emphasis on the economic outcome.

“States’ COVID response performances were starkly illustrated by comparing the divergent approaches of two of the nation’s largest states – California and Florida,” Zinberg wrote. “California imposed severe and prolonged lockdowns. Florida relaxed general lockdowns after a short time and focused protection measures on the vulnerable elderly. These policies were noteworthy since COVID infection mortality rates were known to be much higher for the elderly. Florida has one of the oldest populations and California one of the youngest.”

“The two states had roughly equal health outcomes scores, suggesting little, if any, health benefit from California’s severe approach,” he observed. “But California suffered far worse economic and education outcomes than average while Florida’s outcomes were well above average.”

The editorial explored the concept of people voting with their feet to show that they chose Florida while overwhelmingly rejecting California.

“Prior to the pandemic, California and Florida led the nation in annual out and in-migration respectively. But the numbers jumped during the pandemic,” Zinberg explained. “California’s annual out-migration surged 154% in the pandemic years over pre-pandemic averages as people fled severe lockdowns. Florida’s open schools and businesses boosted in-migration by nearly 60%. One of us (Blase) moved his family from Virginia to Florida in early 2021, mainly so his kids could resume in-person schooling and a normal life.”

For policymakers who embraced lockdowns, Zinberg said they “stubbornly relied on flawed modeling that over-predicted deaths and that over-estimated lockdown benefits.”

“In addition, public health officials refused to consider, much less balance, the economic and educational consequences, and excess non-COVID mortality that lockdowns would cause. Federal officials were fixated on direct COVID health effects and state officials who considered other outcomes were unfairly vilified,” he added.

“Future pandemics – whether from variants of known viruses or yet unknown organisms – are inevitable,” Zinberg concluded. “Policymakers must avoid severe, prolonged, and one-size-fits-all restrictions and be prepared to balance the benefits of their responses against the economic, educational, health and social costs. They need to recognize that individuals’ choices – to undertake voluntary risk mitigation, comply with government measures, or move to states whose policies better reflect their cost-benefit calculations – are the decisive determinants of pandemic outcomes.”

Or, in other words, just follow the instincts and actions of a leader like Ron DeSantis.

Tom Tillison


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