On the other hand, DeSantis said, the virus poses almost no risk for anyone younger than 50 with no underlying conditions. He added that one of the most common underlying factors was obesity. This is a truth many doctors working with Covid-19 patients will quietly acknowledge, but it’s not something they’re saying out loud. 

Florida, DeSantis said again and again, was being guided by “facts, data and science.” His many critics disagree, accusing him of playing to Trump in handling the crisis. But if you take even a cursory look at Florida’s numbers, they tend to bear him out. DeSantis is right about how the virus treats the young differently from the old. In Florida, people 65 and older account for 26% of all cases but 83% of the deaths. People younger than 55 account for only 7% of the death toll.

And then there are the numbers that loom largest in Florida: the overall totals. Florida’s population is about 22 million. That is 9 million more than Pennsylvania and Illinois, and 15 million more than Massachusetts. Yet those smaller states have 57,000, 78,000 and 78,000 positive cases, respectively, as of Sunday. Florida is nearing 40,000. The most important number, deaths, is even more surprising. Pennsylvania: 3,700 people have died of Covid-19. Massachusetts: almost 5,000. Illinois: around 3,400. And Florida? Fewer than 1,800.

Let me repeat that. In the nation’s third most populous state, fewer than 1,800 people have died of Covid-19. That is .008% of the population. That is extraordinary. The question is why? And what does it suggest about Florida’s effort to reopen its economy?

At the most basic level, the reason it’s hard to understand what is happening in Florida is because we simply don’t understand enough about the virus and how it works. A second reason, though, is that DeSantis’s response to the crisis has been so thoroughly politicized. 

In late April, the governor was invited to the White House, where he met with Trump in a transparent effort to position Florida’s success as proof that governors from red states were handling the crisis better than those from blue states. With Trump standing next to him, DeSantis said that his “tailored and measured approach” was the reason Florida’s numbers were so much lower than the early models predicted. (One prominent model predicted that by late April, 465,699 Floridians would be hospitalized with Covid-19.) The contrast to the lockdown in states like New York was obvious.

On the Fox News website, former Education Secretary William Bennett co-wrote an article that praised DeSantis’s early focus on the elderly, who make up a large percentage of Florida’s population. His measures included using the National Guard to test residents and staff members of nursing homes, setting up golf-cart drive-through test sites and imposing a serious lockdown of long-term care facilities. The article happily noted that the nursing home death rate was 93% better than New York’s.

Did this targeted approach save lives? No doubt. But consider this: So far, according to the Florida Department of Health, 665 resident of long-term care facilities have died of Covid-19. That means one-third of all Floridians who have died because of the virus resided in nursing homes. That is exactly the national percentage. And there have been outbreaks in Florida nursing homes, just as there have been in northern blue states.