As readers of this site and followers my Twitter feed know, I have been harping obsessively on rising COVID-19 numbers in the state since just after Memorial Day. The apocalyptic fear as it was called by some, that I articulated in late May, that we’d reach a new “peak,” in June wildly underestimated what was to come. In fact we’ve blown away what would be a new “peak,” creating several new lines upward on any chart tracking cases in Florida.
As Florida reopened those concerned about public health faced employment discrimination and social stigmas while elected officials played politics.
I will be perfectly honest- I am a passionate person who cares about issues, but in my 40 plus years on this planet I have NEVER been as angry or depressed about an issue as I am about Coronavirus in Florida since Memorial Day. The anti-intellectualism and cognitive dissonance is at levels I have NEVER seen before in this state, which is saying quite something when consider this is the home of #FloridaMan. It’s enough to make someone want to crawl in the attic or leave the state altogether.
Our elected leaders have thus far failed to meet the test presented by COVID-19. This includes leaders in both parties. Even those like Lenny Curry, Carlos Gimenez and Nikki Fried that began crisis well have since made mistakes or taken their eyes off the ball.
But special condemnation must be reserved for a class of conservatives who have chosen to put the economy over people’s lives and public health. What’s worse is that that group is actually wrong about economics.
Governor DeSantis has pushed reopening as an economic fix. As I stated last week, I believe the Governor’s instincts don’t match his actions – he’s boxed in between a need to placate MAGA supporters, in Florida the hub of the Mega-MAGA culture while trying to curb the viruses spread. So what we have is the worst possible combination of recklessness and fear brewing.
Some of the Governor’s thinking no doubt revolved around Holiday weekends- Memorial Day and July 4 as well as major sports competitions, WWE, MLS, NBA and WNBA’s desire to use the state as a staging ground while other places were shut down.
One league Florida did not attract was NWSL, the top women’s soccer league in the US – they opted to restart in Utah instead. However, the Orlando Pride, Florida’s only NWSL side had to hastily withdraw from competition this week, as they recorded 10 positive COVID-19 tests. The word on the street is that bar hopping in Central Florida once Phase 2 began, may have well been the cause for the infections origins in the Pride dressing room (NOTE: This is unverified by me, but reported elsewhere).
The general idea that reopening salvages the economy is madness. Alexander Hamilton, whom conservatives have for the last three decades loved to claim (the lack of intellectual consistency on the right might be best explained by the simultaneous claiming of the contrary ideologies of BOTH Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson when it suits them)made it very clear that in his view psychological factors play a major role in economic growth. But we didn’t need Hamilton to tell us this, it’s common sense.
Those pushing a message in late April to #Reopen Florida assumed economic activity would quickly return to pre-Pandemic levels if the state fully opened up. Governor DeSantis wisely at first used data to inform his choices and started with a limited reopening.
But what DeSantis did not do was force mask wearing, though he publicly encouraged it every time he spoke on it – splitting the difference to try and placate MAGA folk and ordinary Floridians, something that is impossible in this political climate. Florida’s rapid spike in cases can be attributed to several factors, but the most direct cause is quite possibly the lack of mask-wearing in public throughout much of the state.
Now even without mask wearing ordinances and laws in place, DeSantis’ measured approach may have worked if given time. Phase One listed above was quickly transitioned to Phase Two within two and a half weeks.
During Phase One, rates of transmissions increased but perhaps only naturally with the limited re-openings. The quick move to Phase Two, has led to a rapid increase in transmissions, businesses closing back down and more and more Floridians less likely to leave their homes. The lack of mask-wearing has only made this situation worse – in fact the status quo it is completely untenable.
The rising rates of transmissions now have Floridians forced to endure Quarantine if they travel to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut while economic activity is continuing to lag. Airlines and tour packages are restoring Florida service, but more slowly than in other parts of the country.
The bottom line is this – consumers and residents are not confident about the direction the state is headed. You cannot re-calibrate an economy overnight and it becomes especially hard if only 60% or so of the public wants to participate in the economy.
Conservatives who practice crony capitalism (yet hypocritically decry socialism) have encouraged businesses to operate so close to the margins one bad month puts them in jeopardy of folding and now discount psychological factors and a faith in scientific data in rebooting have only themselves to blame for Florida’s economic downturn. No one could have predicted a pandemic, but being prepared for disasters and having a plan, even if it involves short-term pain to climb out of it was essential. But conservatives have proven again, they just don’t get it.
This week as rumors of data manipulation began to surface and reporting on occupied ICU beds was changed, the possibility that conservatives would manipulate data to force further reopening or prevent ordinances on mask wearing grew stronger. Rebekah Jones, who was fired as DOH’s Chief Data Scientist for dubious reasons is providing layers of data the state doesn’t provide and as noted above has sounded the alarm on Twitter about the state deleting data.
It’s important all those concerned about public health for ALL of our citizens do not let Florida continue to reopen the state without some degree of push back and open discussion. We must hold elected officials of BOTH PARTIES accountable and understand this is the crises of our times – we either rise to the occasion together or fail completely.