In retrospect, it’s clear that DeSantis — as well as governors in Texas, Arizona, California and a lot of other states — reopened too early because they too were swayed by their low death rates and were eager to get their economies back on track. They didn’t anticipate how opening bars, in particular, would spread the virus. They weren’t willing to get tough on people who refused to wear masks. Perhaps most important, they didn’t pay enough attention to the reproduction rate — that is, the estimate of the number of people each Covid-positive person would infect. (In Florida, according to one model, it is 1.42)

Nor did I. After my second Florida column, Felix Salmon, the financial journalist, tweeted: “I’m still unclear what exactly it is that you think DeSantis did that was so effective. Tell old people to be cautious?” His tweet caught me up short. I realized that I was giving the governor credit not because of any particular action he’d taken — other than sealing off nursing homes — but because so few Floridians had died. More likely, Florida was lucky rather than good.

Even now, with the staggering number of positive cases, DeSantis won’t issue a statewide mask mandate. Aside from bars, which he ordered closed, the governor has left decisions about shutting down businesses to the counties and cities. Early on, DeSantis took great pride in the low number of positive cases at The Villages, a huge retirement community in Central Florida with more than 120,000 residents. He even cited it as an example of how the naysayers were wrong.

But now hundreds of people who live there are coming down with Covid-19, and the infection rate is 9%. The New York Times reported a few days ago that in the space of two weeks, the percentage of Covid-19 patients in their 80s who had been hospitalized in the Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County had jumped to 18% from 9%. So much for DeSantis’s theory that only 20-somethings were getting sick.

When you look at the states that are facing surges right now — Florida, Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, and others— they follow the same pattern. They saw very little of the virus when the Northeast was getting crushed. They let their guard down — even bragged about their success. Then, when it turned out that virus had simply taken its sweet time making its way south and west, it took them too long to awaken to the threat.

Although the positive case numbers are terrible across the board, the death rates are still low. Texas has 347,000 cases but only 4,100 deaths. Mississippi has 45,000 cases and 1,400 deaths. Arizona has 149,000 cases, and less than 3,000 deaths. Florida’s 380,000 positive cases had yielded 5,435 deaths as of Wednesday.

Whenever I bring this up, I’m reminded that deaths are a lagging indicator. But this surge began in early June; if the virus were acting the same way it did in the Northeast, the death rate would be far higher by now. I also realize that doctors know a lot more about how to treat Covid-19. But that can’t be the whole answer either. For reasons not yet understood, the virus simply isn’t killing as many people in these states as it did in New York and New Jersey in March and April. The one thing we can say with some certainty is that it’s not the governors’ doing.

Earlier this month, DeSantis issued an emergency order that schools would have to reopen physically five days a week. Again, I find myself agreeing with him. There is scant evidence that grade-school children can transmit the virus to their elders, and keeping schools closed is likely to inflict enormous societal harm.

But in what I now realize is his modus operandi, DeSantis offered nothing besides his order. No sense that he understood the fears of parents or teachers. No offer of state money to help school districts prepare to open safely. No willingness to delay the opening of school to give everyone more time to get ready.

Teachers are furious, and so are many parents. School boards are protesting. The teacher’s union has sued the state. When I turn on the South Florida call-in shows, I hear angry voters pummeling DeSantis.

This time, I can’t disagree: He’s earned it fair and square.

Joe Nocera is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He has written business columns for Esquire, GQ and the New York Times, and is the former editorial director of Fortune. His latest project is the Bloomberg-Wondery podcast "The Shrink Next Door."

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