“Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
That was the celebrated 1975 New York Daily News headline when President Gerald Ford demurred on a bailout for an overstretched Gotham.
And almost literally, it was the initial message from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Coast Guard to virus-stricken cruise ship passengers stranded at sea.
Now, the America we all know and love was always first to rush relief to humanitarian crises worldwide.
In fact, just seven months back, that America led the effort to rescue the neighboring Bahamas from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Dorian – with, ironically, cruise ships dispatched to transport desperate survivors to our shores.
According to the president of Carnival Corporation’s Holland America in an op-ed this week, about a dozen ships with 9,000-plus passengers, including hundreds sick and four dead on his line’s Zaandam, were stranded at sea.
Miami-Dade County refused the exiled ships. Broward County – which benefits bigtime from cruise business – vacillated, citing the need for a “protocol.”
The usually sure-footed DeSantis first said no, then relented to taking in Sunshine State residents only, grumbling, “We cannot afford to have people who aren’t even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable (health-system) resources.”
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard – whose website boasts the motto, “Always Ready” – ordered ships to care for their sick passengers at sea “for an indefinite period of time,” as “shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effectively treat additional critically-ill patients.”
Oh. But the Bahamas have that capacity – with revenues of $2 billion a year, versus nearly $3.5 trillion for the feds, and Florida’s budget of $90+ billion?
Or for that matter, Holland America, whose president plaintively queried: “Nations are reluctant to share provisions or afraid to carry critical supplies out to us. What happens when our supplies run out?”
It’s unclear how many coronavirus infections, and deaths, there will be. But regardless, threatening to leave ill and endangered passengers without a country for weeks signifies a yet more serious infection: of our national soul. In the epidemiologist-induced and media-stoked panic, our leaders increasingly appear to have lost not only their senses, but their way.
The Coast Guard is an agency of a government that just passed a $2 trillion – that’s “trillion,” with a T – stimulus package, including $150 billion (with a B) in assistance to hospitals to deal with the virus.
It seems that surely, amid all that scratch, the resources could be scraped up to safely disembark and disperse a few hundred sick passengers among Florida hospitals that statewide in 2017 alone managed 2.7 million discharges, or 7,400 a day plus 9 million emergency room visits.
There was only one proper response to this crisis – which readers of these pages know always involves living up to your brand values.
What the Coast Guard should have said: “We’ll show what ‘Always Ready’ means. Whatever it takes, we’ll work with local authorities, healthcare providers and the federal government to find a way to get these people safely off the boat.”
And Gov. DeSantis? He should have said: “We’re grateful that in good times, tourists from around the world generate $85 billion in economic impact, 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs, $55 billion in wages, and more than $11 billion in state revenues for Florida. Of course, we won’t leave them in the lurch in this time of desperate need.”
Fortunately, one leader does have a grip on crisis response. The commander-in-chief, during his Monday night coronavirus briefing, promised to intervene with the words: “I’m going to do what’s right, not only for us but for humanity.”
Those words finally got things moving, forcing a partial solution: Broward announced that two ships could land, with all expenses to be paid by Carnival, which arranged for the sickest patients to be treated in local hospitals, a few to stay on board till symptoms clear, and healthy ones transported in cars and sanitized coaches to charter flights home. The fate of other ships is unclear.
All in all, still not a great look for Florida’s tourist brand – but another bully moment for the president, who articulated a refreshing notion for these soul-sick times.
“Do what’s right.”
A watchword one hopes will become the guiding principle going forward – taking in all aspects of the heretofore decidedly unsteady and unbalanced coronavirus effort.