A campaign orchestrated by multiple elected officials and activists to reopen Florida in May, ending COVID-19 lockdown restrictions dominated our political conversations in April and early May. Our state begin its reopening in early May, in phases.
Governor Ron DeSantis adopted a data-based approach to the phased reopening, which on the surface appeared deliberative and savvy. DeSantis, contrary to some of the narrative spewed by national media outlets was more cautious and slower to reopen.
However, the Governor cannot control the citizenry’s behavior and some politicians particularly a few prominent ones on the right have exploited the situation to create an ideologically-based movement to not only reopen the state with undo haste, but to ignore public health guidelines and show a lack of consideration for those susceptible to catching the virus.
Right-wing thought leaders pushed an ideological agenda in April, demanding re-openings and flaunting public health rules. Some even pushed a “the cure is worse than the disease” mantra while praising President Trump’s handling of the virus, blaming China and the World Health Organization, pushing Hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the virus and repeating highly-inaccurate date about testing. The idea of having “COVID parties” to self-infect and therefore reopen the economy sooner also became popular in certain circles on the right in March and April.
The United States continues to lag behind most comparable western nations in terms of per capita testing – in fact when President Trump declared “victory” on testing in early May, the US was conducting more tests per capita than the United Kingdom, perhaps the most comparable nation to us- that situation has revered itself in the month since Trump’s victory speech.
So, what now has become obvious is the curve in Florida (graph below, the most recent date listed is June 4, the numbers released June 5 continue the upward seven day trend) , which had been flattened and then reversed in our state, now is back on a steep upward trajectory. The disrespect some Floridians have shown to their fellow citizens in terms of not following social distancing guidelines and ignoring health officials calls to wear a mask have no doubt contributed to this upswing.
The spikes this week indicate Memorial Day activities including many where Floridians were flaunting NOT following public health guidelines probably led directly to an upswing in cases.
The correlation between reopening and upswing in cases wasn’t apparent in the early weeks of Phase 1 throughout much of the state, however Memorial Day and the care free holiday weekend that starts summer seem to have changed this situation dramatically.
Reopening in Florida is accelerating. Not only have 64 of 67 counties (including especially hard-hit Lee and Collier) been moved to Phase 2, but we are seeing amusement parks and other tourist attractions open their doors once again.
It’s also quite obvious that the long-promoted culture of individualism and “liberty,” has taken on an even more overt life in the post-lockdown world. In promoting a “live and let live” philosophy, conservative ideologues have threatened the general health and welfare of Florida’s population – because one person’s quest for “liberty” openly encroaches on another citizens efforts to protect themselves and their family in the midst of the worst pandemic of the 100 years.
This week, Two major sports leagues, the NBA and MLS tentatively announced plans to resume their suspended seasons exclusively in Florida with the entire league, including players, coaches and staff coming to Orlando in July. While this will jump start Florida’s economy, it also adds a layer of risk for both the state and the leagues. But it does a reasonable solution when compared to having players and staff travel through airports and on buses to matches.
Nobody is as of yet proposing another lock down like we saw in April – however the accelerated pace of reopening combined with the failure of many Floridians to follow very basic public health guidelines runs the risk of us being forced to shutdown again when the fall comes if the anticipated second wave of virus infections arrives in the state.
Using deliberative phased reopening and maintaining public health guidelines was designed to re-calibrate the economy slowly while minimizing public health risks. But unfortunately, many Floridians are more interested in pushing some sort ideological agenda – not wearing masks, not observing social distancing and attacking scientists and we are once again in a precipitous position regarding this virus.
Irrespective of how they couch it, these politicians and activists don’t care about human life and some may even be willing to sacrifice lives freely if it meant economic prosperity and political success at the ballot box in November.
The first wave probably never actually ended, and now we risk having no respite before the anticipated second wave arrives. In fact, it is possible that the at the rate we have seen new cases diagnosed the last few days, we could be heading to a second peak, an arc on the graph pictured above.
For a state with a fragile economy and virtually no safety net, the re-openings could be a catastrophic error. Or maybe we will be lucky and get away with it. Either way, we are running a risk that probably was not worth taking.