- Florida is reporting more COVID-19 cases than ever before: more than 5,000 a day for a week straight, as of Monday.
- In May, fewer than 5% of people tested in Florida were found to have COVID-19. On Monday, the number was three times that, hitting a seven-day average of just under 16%.
- “When everything started to open up and ease up, then our volume picked up,” Dr. Mark Supino, an emergency-medicine physician at Jackson Health System in Miami, told Business Insider.
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Eight weeks ago, conservative media outlets and politicians hailed Florida as a model for addressing the coronavirus pandemic, showing that there was no need to shut down a state for months to ride out the first wave of infections.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former military prosecutor and Republican representative, was all but saying, I told you so. And his allies were singing his praise.
“He’s done a spectacular job,” US President Donald Trump said at a joint news conference in April, as The Washington Post reported in May in a story on the apparent victory of business as usual. “He’s going to be opening up large portions, and ultimately pretty quickly because he’s got great numbers in all of Florida.”
By early May, Florida’s restaurants were once again entertaining guests, and the governor’s office was boasting.
“He’s just not doing it the way Cuomo is doing it,” Helen Ferré, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, told The Tampa Bay Times on May 4, referring to New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. “He’s doing it the conservative way.”
Weeks later, the numbers have changed. While New York reported 624 new coronavirus cases on Sunday – down from highs of more than 10,000 a day – Florida is reporting more cases than ever before: more than 5,000 a day for a week straight, as of Monday.
DeSantis has attributed that increase in part to young people. “You can’t control” them, he said on Sunday, adding, “They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
He’s also attributed it to the larger number of tests. “As you’re testing more, you’re going to see more cases,” he said earlier in the month.
But while young people have indeed accounted for a large share of new coronavirus cases, many were drinking at bars that the state reopened – only to close them again last Friday.
And though the increase in cases has come amid an increase in testing, more people being swabbed have tested positive. In May, fewer than 5% of people tested were found to have COVID-19. On Monday, the number was three times that, hitting a seven-day average of just under 16%.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But frontline workers see a link between public policy and public health.
“When everything started to open up and ease up, then our volume picked up,” Dr. Mark Supino, an emergency-medicine physician at Jackson Health System in Miami, told Business Insider.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that a third of the people admitted through Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room in the past two weeks had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Statewide, many of those who’ve tested positive are young: The rate was 20% for people between 25 and 34, DeSantis said. And younger people can carry the virus to older people.
“We’ve certainly seen clusters within families, within the homeless shelters, with anywhere where anybody’s confined,” Supino said. “That, I think, creates a big risk factor for transmission.”
If there is an upside to the latest surge – it’s not another “wave,” as we are still riding the first – it’s that we are better prepared, which means better outcomes for people who are hospitalized, Supino said.
“I think there is reason to be optimistic,” Supino said.
Patients today are receiving antibody-rich plasma from people who have already recovered. Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that showed promise for treating COVID-19 in a recent clinical trial, is another option that wasn’t around at the start of the pandemic. And it’s better understood that even something as basic as flipping patients onto their stomachs can help improve airflow for those struggling to breathe.
Experts are hopeful that this all should help decrease the lethality of the coronavirus – but that can happen only if hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by an influx of sick people competing for limited resources such as drugs or beds in the intensive-care unit. At Jackson Health System, the ICU is almost always approaching capacity, and that was before COVID-19.
Complacency, increasing alongside the rate of infection, could push hospitals to the tipping point. The virus becoming old news and increasingly politicized is already hurting the mental health of patients and providers alike, Supino said.
“We were all in it together for the first months,” Supino said. “It feels like those gains have been somewhat diminished, and that can leave people feeling a little gloomy.”
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