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Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After a solid year of living with a pandemic, the national press is beginning to ask the question that even Democrats have been quietly pondering in the Sunshine State: Was Gov. Ron DeSantis' pandemic response right for Florida?

Don't forget: More than 32,000 Floridians have died, a number the state's leaders rarely acknowledge, but our death rate is no worse than the national average — and better than some states with tighter restrictions.

The Los Angeles Times compared Florida and California's responses:

  • "California imposed myriad restrictions that battered the economy, and have left most public school students learning at home for a year. ... Florida adopted a more laissez-faire approach decried by public health experts — allowing indoor restaurant dining, leaving masks optional and getting children back in classrooms sooner."
  • But, it points out, "If California had Florida’s death rate, roughly 6,000 more Californians would be dead from COVID-19, and tens of thousands of additional patients likely would have landed in already overburdened hospitals. And if Florida had California’s death rate, roughly 3,000 fewer Floridians would be dead from COVID-19."

On Sunday's front page, the New York Times explored the positives — from the booming real-estate market to Florida's low unemployment rate — of an early reopening: "Much of the state has a boomtown feel," writes Patricia Mazzei, "a sense of making up for months of lost time."

  • The Times notes that Florida's unemployment rate is 5.1%, compared to 9.3% in California, 8.7% in New York and 6.9% in Texas.
  • "That debate about reopening schools? It came and went months ago. Children have been in classrooms since the fall."

The big picture: Much of the public part of DeSantis' pandemic response feels more and more like an audition for a 2024 presidential run, which Politico's Marc Caputo has noted.

  • "With a COVID death count cover-up consuming New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a pandemic-related recall effort haunting California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Republicans are embracing DeSantis as a red-state exemplar."

Our thought bubble: We've long known that the state's pro-business Republican leadership was making a sort of grand bargain: that the death toll was the price paid for keeping commerce flowing and keeping kids in school.

  • The closer you are to either loss or to the fullness of life will likely determine how you feel about the state's response.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

What we know about the victims of the Indianapolis mass shooting

Officials load a body into a vehicle at the site of the mass shooting in Indianapolis. Photo:

Eight people who were killed along with several others who were injured in a Thursday evening shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis have been identified by local law enforcement.

The big picture: The Sikh Coalition said at least four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.