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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

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.