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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, Florida Department of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Florida's slow response to the coronavirus may have set the stage for a disastrous outcome in one of the country's most vulnerable states.

Driving the news: Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order yesterday, but there's bipartisan concern that he held off too long, letting the virus spread too far, before finally taking steps that many other governors embraced weeks ago.

Why it matters: Florida is the third biggest state in the U.S. and one of the highest-risk for coronavirus. Yet DeSantis' response has lagged well behind other populated states.

  • He let state beaches stay open during spring break, publicly downplayed the risk, and resisted a statewide lockdown until yesterday — and those delays may have made things worse.

By the numbers: Florida’s population is among the most at-risk in the nation, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • One in five residents is 65 or older. Between age and pre-existing health conditions, nearly half the state's population is at heightened risk of contracting the coronavirus.
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida is increasing rapidly every day, with more than 900 new cases confirmed on Tuesday alone.

By the time the number of confirmed cases starts getting alarming, a crucial window already has passed. The coronavirus is highly contagious, and newly infected people can be contagious before they ever start to feel sick.

  • That's why social distancing — of the kind Florida had not mandated until yesterday — is so important.

"I think there is a lot of risk that the state was heavily seeded and could see significant growth in new cases," former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Axios.

What they're saying: One Florida Republican operative told Axios that DeSantis was mindful of the "significant" impact such a decision would have on the state's economy and budget and "doing everything possible to limit the damage."

  • “I also think he was making a political calculation that, down the road, there's going to be some blowback, particularly from our base, on some of these more restrictive policies,” the operative added.
  • A Republican congressional aide from Florida told Axios they can understand DeSantis' considerations, but that it's clear he should have been more aggressive and direct sooner about how dire the situation was becoming.

The bottom line: Some local governments in Florida had previously issued stay-at-home orders, but DeSantis resisted, saying as recently as Tuesday that the White House coronavirus task force made no such recommendation.

  • But the coronavirus easily jumps from one community to another. All it takes is someone from one county with a stay-at-home order going to a bar in another county without one.

DeSantis' office did not respond to requests for comment.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
7 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.