Florida broke the national record for new daily coronavirus cases this week, registering 15,000 new COVID-19 infections in a single day. The record easily beat New York, which on its worst April day recorded 12,000 new COVID cases.
More than 282,400 people in Florida have been infected with the coronavirus as of July 13, and at least 4,277 people have died, according to the latest figures from the state health department.
While 4,277 deaths may seem low compared to the more than 32,000 deaths in New York State since the outbreak began, experts say death is a lagging indicator. Experts say deaths in Florida can, and probably will, increase.
Another indicator of a worsening outbreak is an increasing rate of COVID-19 positive tests. While Florida’s test positivity rate dropped below 3.6% in early May, it has since risen to 11.2%, according to state health department data, higher than the positivity threshold. of 10%, experts say, states should try to stay well below.
A high positivity rate may be a sign that a state is only testing its sickest patients and cannot launch a network large enough to accurately capture community transmission, according to Johns Hopkins University, a category in which Florida is considered to be found.
In comparison, South Korea, considered a world leader for its COVID-19 response, never had a positivity rate of more than 1% or 2%. In New Zealand, which has practically eradicated the virus, the positivity rate nationwide averaged 0.3% from January to July.
The New York City positivity rate is currently 2%.
What Florida did and did not do to fight COVID-19
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced their reopening guidelines in April, relatively few states adhered to the agency’s suggestions.
“Those are very strong public health principles that were offered to all states,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, who worked at the Department of Health and Human Services during the administration of Obama.
Instead, many states lobbied to reopen their economies early. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order expired on May 4 and in early June, the state was reopening bars and entertainment companies, despite increasing cases.
“They reopened too soon in hindsight,” Koh said, in contrast to Florida in the northeastern states, which had larger outbreaks at first and tended to follow CDC guidelines more closely.
Florida was also delayed in recommending that the general public wear masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus. While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in April, requiring everyone to cover their faces in public, the Florida surgeon-general finally made a similar announcement about facial covers on June 22.
“A universal mask policy is long overdue, not just for the state, but for the nation as a whole,” Koh said. “We don’t have a vaccine yet,” he added. “Until the FDA approves one, the masks are the best vaccine we have.”
In at least one Florida county, local officials are taking matters into their own hands.
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner told ABC News that the increase in the COVID case in his district is being taken seriously. Last month, he issued a mandate, ordering the public to cover their faces while outdoors. Later this week, the Mayor’s office will send four masks and public health literature to every household in the county.
“For $ 5 per household we can use our purchasing power and, along with the mandate, saturate our community with [information about] the most effective way to combat COVID, “he said. According to Kerner’s estimate, most local leaders are on the same page when it comes to public health strategies to stop the Florida outbreak, such as wearing masks and limits strict to crowds.
Being on the same page, “takes the burden off a particular person or city to be the ‘bad person’,” he added.
Since then, the governor has withdrawn many of Florida’s reopening initiatives, including the effective closing of bars on June 26.
“Governor DeSantis has taken extraordinary measures to combat COVID-19 in Florida,” a spokesman for the governor’s office told ABC News in a statement, citing changes to nursing home rules, increased testing and the mask recommendation. from the general surgeon.
“Governor DeSantis’ mission will remain the same, which is to protect the vulnerable, expand the evidence, encourage the practice of social distancing from the use of masks, and support hospitals and health workers, among others.”
The confluence of factors working against Florida
Florida health care workers and officials, as well as the general public, have had the advantage of learning from hot spots like New York, which battled outbreaks at the start of the pandemic. Armed with that medical knowledge, they can improve the lives of the sickest COVID-19 patients.
But there is also a confluence of factors working against Florida, according to Koh.
Although the profile of a typical person who is infected with the coronavirus now becomes younger than it was before in a pandemic, one in five Florida residents is over the age of 65, meaning that a considerable portion of the The state’s population is at risk for serious COVID-19 complications and death. Like New York City, Florida is diverse. Forty-five percent of residents are black or Latino, the demographics shown are disproportionately likely to become infected and die from COVID-19.
Another key factor in Florida is insurance coverage. Florida’s 13% uninsured rate beat both the national average of 9% and New York’s 5% uninsured rate, according to 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation data.
“If you are an older person in Florida, a person of color and are uninsured, there are many barriers to getting vital care right now,” said Koh.
Notably, Florida is one of 14 states that did not expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, an option that could harm the state’s coronavirus response, according to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on last month.
“Covering more people in Medicaid is a quick way to bring the necessary resources into the health care system and infuse federal dollars into state economies on the brink of a major recession,” wrote Jonathan Gruber, economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the outbreak continues in the United States, “Federal and state policy makers are considering Medicaid as a central tool in their response to this national emergency,” added Gruber.
As Florida, as well as Arizona, Texas, California, and others, continue to grapple with their respective outbreaks, Koh noted the power of basic public health prevention strategies such as wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing.
“The only tools we have as a society now are to maximize the power of prevention in public health,” he said. “The states that have done that have seen dramatic progress.”
But while prevention sounds easy in theory, right now most Americans know it’s more difficult in practice, especially over long periods of time.
“Everyone should appreciate how fragile the gift of health is,” said Koh. “At a time like this, that gift needs to be fiercely protected.”
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