DeSantis defends opening vaccine pop-up site in affluent, mostly white community

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to the media at a coronavirus vaccination center at the Lakewood Ranch in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday Chris O’Meara / AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis traveled to an affluent, mostly white community in Manatee County on Wednesday to promote a pop-up vaccination site that he said would make it easier for seniors to shoot.

The Republican governor has already faced assault by local officials angered that he had added the new “capsule” to the county’s two richest zip codes, even if racial differences continue to affect the state’s vaccine rollout, and he had a clear message, which he wanted to convey personally: If you don’t like it, we’ll go.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this, we can place that in counties that want it,” DeSantis said during a press conference Wednesday at Lakewood Ranch, an upscale development in the county. “Next time you’d like us to send to Sarasota or Charlotte or Pasco, please let us know. We like to do that. “

The move to set up the vaccination center in the republican area was first reported by the Bradenton Heraldcomes because other areas of the state are running out of vaccines and the governor is ignoring demands by the state to step up efforts to eradicate racial differences. Only 5.3 percent of the vaccine doses the state has given so far went to black residents, according to the state. Almost 17 percent of Florida’s population are black.

Black faith leaders said last month the DeSantis office had not responded when they tabled a plan to use a network of churches and community centers in mostly black communities to vaccinate millions of people.

After DeSantis defied its trademark on Wednesday, MP Omari Hardy (D-West Palm Beach) took over Twitter to offer a “translation” of what he meant by DeSantis’ comments: “If you criticize me in my official capacity as a civil servant, I will withhold life-sustaining resources from your community.”

The site selection process began with a phone call from Lakewood Ranch developer and frequent GOP donor Rex Jensen on Feb.9, the Herald reported. Also on the line was Pat Neal, a developer who builds homes on the Lakewood Ranch and is also a major donor to the GOP in Florida. As of 2018, he has donated $ 135,000 to DeSantis’ political committee. Neal declined to comment.

Manatee County’s officers Misty Servia and Reggie Bellamy told the Herald that the DeSantis location on the Lakewood Ranch would only serve Jensen’s wealthy residents. DeSantis declined to use zip codes to determine which communities will receive the vaccine first.

“It was a decision about where there would be a high concentration of seniors and where to have communities providing the vaccine,” DeSantis said during Wednesday’s press conference, which was at times heated.

Lakewood Ranch falls under the Chair of the Manatee County Commission Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh, a Republican who said during a public meeting Tuesday night she had little time to plan after DeSantis called Jensen.

“We did it as well as we could on very short notice,” said Braugh.

DeSantis’ statewide vaccination schedule gives top priority to the 4.5 million Florida residents over 64 years of age. According to the DeSantis bureau, only 29 percent of Manatee County’s seniors have been vaccinated to date – the fourth lowest in the state. St. Johns County had the highest number of seniors vaccinated at 67 percent. St. Johns was followed by Leon County with 66 percent and Wakulla County with 65 percent.

Highlands and Glades counties had the lowest percentage of vaccinated seniors at 25 percent.

Manatee County will receive 6,000 vaccine doses out of the roughly 400,000 the state expects from the federal government in the next few days. DeSantis said he also anticipates another 30,000 shots, of which 3,000 will go to the Lakewood Ranch, DeSantis said.

As of Tuesday, more than 2.4 million people in Florida had been vaccinated against Covid-19, including more than 1.8 million senior citizens. DeSantis said he could raise immunity ratings in the coming weeks as more seniors fire shots.

R.B. Holmes Jr., a pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, said last month he had sent a plan to the DeSantis offices to use a network of churches and community centers in mostly black neighborhoods as vaccination sites, but his suggestion was ignored .

“For some reason Florida is a little reluctant to work with a group of volunteers who have our arms outstretched, not our fists,” Holmes told POLITICO. “But that is why the federal government is so important … If only it were the rights of the states, we would still be living under Jim Crowism.”

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