A member of President Biden’s team leaked potential flight restrictions on Florida but then walked them back amongst other domestic protocols.
President Biden’s Alleged Flight Restrictions
There was no official announcement this week with regard to domestic flight restrictions, but an awful lot of floating ideas and then walking them back.
The Miami Herald initially reported conversations with an unnamed White House official that would restrict flights to Florida. This was apparently in response to the UK variant of COVID-19. That variant has been said to be as much as 35% more deadly than the original and more contagious.
The official had this to say,
“But we’re having conversations about anything that would help mitigate spread,” the official said, referring to discussions about new travel restrictions that could target the spread of the U.K. mutation in Florida.” – Miami Herald
The same unnamed White House official on the topic of the UK COVID-19 variant mutation alluded to Florida but did not specifically name the sunshine state. However, responding to a question about the state from the largest paper in that state gave the Herald the confidence to print the story alleging it would target Florida and I concur. The official added this,
“No decisions have been made, but we certainly are having conversations across government,” the White House official said… “This is a war and we’re at battle with the virus. War is messy and unpredictable, and all options are on the table,” the official said.”
Florida governmental officials felt the possibility was sincere enough that it warranted a response from both Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio who wrote the following (as quoted, again, in the Herald)
“Instituting a travel ban, or any restriction of movement between the states, would be an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science,” Rubio wrote. The White House has not said that it is considering a Florida travel ban.
If that statement wasn’t verbose enough, the Governor was less restrained. Here is his statement as recounted by Politico:
“Any attempt to restrict or lock down Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state, done purely for political purposes,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Port Charlotte, Fla. Healso questioned the need for any type of restrictions given Florida’s middle-of-the pack ranking in terms of Covid-19 fatalities.
The governor also added: “I think it would be unconstitutional, it would be unwise and it would be unjust.”
DeSantis, and potentially Rubio, took the move as a political attack. Both suggested that if the government were to restrict travel it would harm Floridians or target the people of Florida unfairly. They considered it an attack against the people of the state. “If they target us, we will respond.” He added the state would, “respond very swiftly” to any new attempts to restrict travel.
The constitutional element of his message referred to any restriction of Americans to travel freely domestically, more on that in the next section.
DeSantis pivoted to border security at the same news conference, stating that restricting domestic travel while allowing migrants to “pour across the southern border unmolested” seemed to be a contradiction to him.
Domestic Travel Restrictions
The Biden Administration had also announced consideration of domestic travel restrictions which would have included COVID-19 testing before any domestic flight. Many came out against this, amongst its critics, Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta Air Lines.
“It will not keep domestic flyers safer,” he said. Planes have hospital quality air filters on board and exchange fresh air into the cabin every few minutes, reducing the chance of transmission.“In fact [there are] very, very few documented cases globally, not just domestically,” Bastian said of air-travel related infections. He added that the domestic testing requirement would take “about 10%” of the resources the country needs “to test sick people away from those people.” – CNN
Florida’s Fight With Covid-19
Florida has struggled with COVID-19, at one point, leading the nation in infections though they didn’t hold the top spot nearly as long as New York, or current leader, California. As several of the linked articles point out, Florida had the following stats to consider at the time the statements were made:
- 3rd in current infections
- 4th in mortality
- Highest in UK variant cases with 385, a third of the US total
- 28,000+ total deaths since the start
John Hopkins reports this week that just four US states/territories are trending “red” (Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.)
Why Florida? Why Walk Back Restrictions?
Florida is unquestionably struggling with COVID-19, but rank third in the number of total infections, and fourth in the number of deaths. Despite having the most cases of the UK variant, Florida is handling that challenge well despite that variant being a deadlier mutation.
In fact, I’d argue that the state may be exceeding expectations given that the population is generally older in the state and in poorer health. Logically, Florida should be first in mortality if they are third in infections, and that’s without the UK strain.
Some on the right would argue that the Florida restriction proposals are targeted due to the conservative nature of the state and restricting the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) regulations at seemingly every turn. Some on the left would argue that this is a safety measure to stop the UK variant, which is also thought to be far more contagious, from spreading to the rest of the country.
I’m not sure that either of those is entirely the answer. It could be a blend of the two or have nothing to do with either viewpoint. However, it is odd that the states that are struggling with both infections and mortality more so than Florida would also make the same flight restriction list.
The White House official didn’t mention any attempt to restrict other states. That makes it very odd. California, once nearly dormant on the infection list has lept to the top even passing beleaguered New York, and it’s not close. California has accrued 48,000 deaths, nearly double Florida’s in a far shorter period of time. In a baffling move, California lifted the state’s stay-at-home order on January 25th and reduced restrictions at a time when California leads the nation in cases.
So much for listening to the scientists.
It seems like President Biden’s administration is shopping adjustments to travel policy with respect to the virus. They alluded to Florida restrictions but not to other states that are categorically more severe, like California. The administration tested the concept of COVID-19 testing before every flight, a measure that would disproportionately affect those without the resources and time to complete a test in addition to the cost of their travel.
As Bastion stated, it would also dramatically strain the resources for sick people who need tests, vs. those who are not ill but have to prove it in order to comply and complete their journeys. Why shop the measures?
What do you think? Is President Biden’s administration testing new policy? Are new domestic measures something to consider? Has Florida been unfairly targeted?