PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
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Opinion: An open letter to Gov. DeSantis

Published on January 17, 2022 at 9:26 pm

Dear Governor DeSantis, 

My daughter has COVID. She’s 7 months. I’m watching her little body battle an invisible bully. 

She’s riding a fever. Her nose is running. She’s also congested. She can’t nurse, because she can’t breathe. She’s not sleeping well. She pants for air. For breath. To breathe. Freely.

Freedom was the overarching theme of your State of the State speech last week ahead of the official opening of the legislative session. You referred to Florida as a “free” 12 times during your speech. A speech that came just one week after your botched Jacksonville COVID update because of a policed/political brouhaha with a certain local civil rights leader. When you finally did address the people, you urged them not to get tested if they didn’t feel sick. It reminded me of when the former president—your mentor perhaps—“jokingly” asked the COVID Task Force to slow down testing at the height of the pandemic when no viable vaccines existed.  

Did you know that our one publicly funded rapid testing site, in Neptune Beach, is overwhelmed by demand daily? I know you know that masks cannot be mandated in schools, but do you know cases have surged through the student body (4,423 as of this writing) with half of them in elementary schools? Do you know that there’s a shortage of bus drivers, teachers, and paraprofessionals because of the omicron variant-driven COVID outbreak? Even DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene returned to teach in a classroom because of the shortage. 

Now I’m sure you’re making the argument that Dr. Greene’s teaching was a left-wing photo op used to gin up liberals into a frenzy over the lack of lockdowns often issued in left-leaning places when this oft-mutating virus spreads unchecked. Perhaps. But so! The teacher shortage is no less real. The threat of COVID is no less real. Maybe omicron is the variant that will turn COVID-19 from a lethal, global threat into a manageable endemic disease. That’s great, but all that really matters to me right now is that my baby can’t breathe. 


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I have resisted talking about COVID because, as Melissa Ross said during the first First Coast Connect of 2022, “People are tired of talking and hearing about COVID.” 

“Me too,” I said in response. “But it’s still a thing.”

I get a daily call from my son’s school about the number of COVID cases among teachers, faculty, staff, and students (55 as of this writing). A daily call that had stopped when there was a mask mandate and only a doctor could provide an opt-out. But that doesn’t matter to you, does it? I too am tired of talking about COVID. But guess what? COVID is not tired of me. In fact, it is waiting for me. To infect my body. Like it has my daughter. 

Yes, I am vaccinated and boosted. My husband is vaccinated. My son is vaccinated. (His COVID test was negative). My daughter received antibodies from my vaccines while in utero, but those protections are waning. She likely did not get any real protection from my booster shot, received after her birth, despite the modest amount of antibodies I was able to pass to her through breastfeeding. 

Response to the COVID-19 global pandemic should not be about political ideology. Illness should not be a hot take for the left or the right. But it is. You have helped to make it this way. From the beginning, response to this virus should have been about humanity. There have been 63.2 million cases and 843,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. I’m sure you know that in Florida, there have been 4.8 million cases and 62,819 deaths. Does this suffering not affect you? If not empathy, have you no sympathy? 

For a developed nation, the so-called world’s super power, we’re looking real strugglesome. For a free state, we’re looking real impotent. But go ahead, Governor, keep telling me, that willingly putting others at risk is the defining factor of freedom. Show me with your political posturing that you care more about your own concentrated seat of power than your people. People, including one 7-month-old girl who’s starting to stir from her nap with labored breath. Doesn’t she deserve to breathe freely in your free state?


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.


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