Republican governors blame familiar targets as coronavirus rates soar

As new coronavirus cases surge across several southern states, Republican governors are looking to apportion blame – and resting upon some familiar targets.

In Florida, migrant Hispanic farm and construction workers are driving the huge uptick in Covid-19 infections, according to Governor Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly identified the immigrant workforce as the “No 1” source of outbreaks in the Sunshine state.

Day laborers contracting the disease are “overwhelmingly Hispanic”, DeSantis said, and migrant in nature, adding that he had given a “heads-up” to health authorities in Georgia and Alabama about “what might be coming down the pike”.

DeSantis’s racially charged comments have been blasted as “shameful” by agricultural workers’ union leaders, who say the state has been lethargic in providing tests and resources to slow the spread. On Saturday, daily new cases in Florida surpassed 4,000 for the first time.

Meanwhile in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has been accused of being “very Trumpian” for pinning blame for his state’s own record numbers on younger residents not wearing masks and refusing to keep social distance.

Abbott’s assertions, made without evidence, drew the ire of Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democratic congresswoman, who tweeted this week that the governor was effectively modeling the US president’s own lack of leadership, refusal to accept responsibility and keenness to apportion blame to others.

DeSantis, who has also pointed to Florida’s high proportion of senior residents in nursing homes for his state’s burgeoning figures, and Abbott, who initially refused to back municipalities who wanted to make face masks mandatory, are not alone among Republican governors under fire.

In Arizona, another emerging Covid-19 hotspot, Governor Doug Ducey has been accused of shutting out Democratic politicians as he presses ahead with the state’s reopening. Ducey, like his counterparts in Florida and Texas, has insisted that increased testing accounts for the increased rates of positivity, an argument that public health officials have rejected as unsound.

“If it was just due to the testing, we wouldn’t see the rates that we see. And the rates are indicative of the relaxation [of Covid-19 restrictions],” Murray Côté, associate professor of health policy and management at Texas A&M, told Time magazine.

For representatives of Florida’s agricultural workers, DeSantis’s comments represent an attack on essential workers who have kept the state fed during the pandemic. In a press conference this week the governor said: “Some of these guys go to work in a school bus, and they are all just packed there like sardines, going across Palm Beach county or some of these other places, and there’s all these opportunities to have transmission.”

Antonio Tovar, executive director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, said his organisation was part of a coalition that pleaded with the governor in April for access to testing, personal protective equipment and alternative accommodation to ease overcrowding, but was ignored.

“We sent this letter to the governor more than two months ago and now he is realising that foreign workers are more suitable to get infected. That is very shameful because he was advised, he was told when we sent the letter,” Tovar said in a statement to the News Service of Florida.

With no response, Tovar said, his group asked local women to make hundreds of cloth face coverings to try to better protect workers.

DeSantis, in keeping with other recent public comments, remains defiant. In an emailed statement to reporters, Alberto Moscoso, communications director for the Florida health department, said that testing among farm workers had increased and that PPE and other resources were being provided in partnership with local churches, charities and hospitals.

“DOH is actively engaged with farming communities and migrant camps to strengthen and foster relationships by distributing cloth face coverings and Covid-19 testing opportunities,” he wrote.

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