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March Madness is this week, and as any college basketball fan can tell you, watching the scoreboard can be a tricky business.

Apparently the same applies to the finger pointing and scoreboard boasting from our country's leaders about how they handled the coronavirus pandemic.

To be sure, victory laps during a deadly pandemic (that isn't over) are as gross as they are futile. But the re-examination of the way Florida aggressively dealt with COVID-19 has been quite telling.

Let's be clear: Florida had a large number of deaths — more than 32,000 — and new cases are common.

But the Sunshine State's death rate is close to the national average, according to Yahoo.com. Protecting those lives was Job No. 1, but in a crisis this layered, it never was the only job for our leaders.

The nation and plenty of critics lambasted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when the state refused to close beaches and was quick to reopen bars. There was outrage when school started on time.

Read last year's national headlines about the Florida governor, who could be a central player in the 2024 presidential shuffle:

> From the Washington Post: "Even by Florida standards, Gov. Ron deSantis is a COVID-19 catastrophe."

> From CNN: "Putting 'politics in front of lives': DeSantis faces criticism over Florida's COVID-19 response."

> From USA Today: "Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' popularity plummets amid widely panned coronavirus response."

Florida's death toll is steep but in some ways predictable considering the percentage of elderly residents and large number of nursing homes.

But the Florida numbers are not overly different from those in California in terms of percentages of cases and deaths despite drastically different approaches. California locked down early and tightly. Students have not been in school for going on 12 months.

While California Gov. Gavin Newsom drew the Pavlovian praise from many in the media, DeSantis was a piñata. Now Newsom is facing a recall effort for his decisions that have left California with a 9.3% unemployment rate, more than 80% higher than Florida's 5.1%.

Certainly, there have been mistakes made, but in reality that was going to happen regardless of which side any leader leaned — fiscal or physical well-being — or which experts were heeded.

But as we all look for the next step and await the call for our first or second shot, Florida's progress through the stormy waters has been consistent. And has aged far better than most expected.

Sure, I think both governors could have used more balance and the occasional measure of common sense that crosses political philosophies.

Because, here's betting that while DeSantis was bound and determined never to close his state's popular beaches, a few more mask mandates could have worked wonders on the case numbers, too.

In fact, it's one of the things I think that has helped our response locally. Hamilton County officials and the leaders of our school system have tried to manage the balance between lives and living.

We are opening, but we can still be cautious. We are hoping to be back in full sooner rather than later, but realize setbacks are likely.

Sadly, in most cases politics as much as anything made it an all-or-nothing proposition, and it never should have to be that way.

There's no way to judge the winners until the final buzzer sounds, and trying to with this pandemic, well, that's truly March Madness.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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