“Florida shows the right way to lock down for coronavirus — and loosen up”
Nearly a month later, Jacksonville’s Duval County reports new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the single digits. Rates of hospitalizations, cases and deaths remain steady across Florida. So far, fewer Floridians have died of the novel coronavirus than in New York’s nursing homes alone (2,259 compared with 5,800, at least). As Politico recently concluded, “Florida just doesn’t look nearly as bad as the national news media . . . have been predicting for about two months now.”
Florida’s approach — a decentralized health response with targeted lockdowns and quarantines reinforced by voluntary social distancing — appears to have worked.
Other populous states adopting this approach, such as Tennessee under Gov. Bill Lee, have seen similar success. The lesson: It is possible to keep a lid on the virus even while gradually reopening.
Florida is large and diverse. If Jacksonville and Tallahassee are the Deep South, the state’s I-4 corridor, running from Tampa through Orlando to Daytona Beach, is pure Middle America. South Florida is the polyglot “New Havana,” a bubbling melting pot between the Gulf and Gold Coasts. Unsurprisingly, DeSantis gave counties leeway in responding to COVID-19.
Miami-Dade County shuttered all its nonessential businesses before New York City did, and it was local leaders who first closed many Florida beaches and cracked down against large gatherings.
When Florida did issue a stay-at-home order (two days after New York), it targeted the state’s 4 million seniors and residents with underlying medical conditions.
Statewide rules issued on April 1 broadly limited “nonessential” activities and business, but by this point, Floridians had already imposed their own restrictions.
Meantime, the state government in Tallahassee was ramping up testing and issuing personal protective equipment, ultimately totaling more than 7 million masks and 1 million gloves. By late April, the state was conducting some 12,000 daily COVID-19 tests, with capacity for more, and drive-through facilities alone had conducted more than 100,000 tests by early May. (New York, by contrast, was doing 20,000 tests daily in mid-April, at least 100,000 below what it needed, considering the size of its outbreak.)
Florida’s response to COVID-19 focused on nursing homes. More than a third of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred among the residents and staff of long-term-care facilities — a share that jumps as high as 80 percent in Minnesota and West Virginia. Florida counts more than 350,000 people living or working in such facilities, and has one of the highest shares of residents over the age of 65.
At the start of the outbreak, Florida deployed rapid-response teams to these facilities to test, treat and, if necessary, isolate or quarantine residents testing positive for the virus. The state issued PPE to these facilities and mandated its use.
While New York was moving sick patients into nursing homes, Florida was moving them out. On March 15, DeSantis prohibited the transfer of COVID-19-positive patients into long-term-care facilities and established COVID-only homes.
By contrast, Gov. Cuomo — celebrated in the media, while DeSantis was pilloried — required that infected patients be admitted into nursing homes, where Cuomo himself had said the virus could spread “like fire through grass.”
Florida’s beaches and businesses are slowly opening, and life is returning to a semblance of normalcy. Retailers and restaurants, hair and nail salons, gyms and hotels are opening with reduced occupancy; soon, “phase two” will allow gatherings of up to 50 people and further loosen occupancy limits. Partly-opened Tampa was among the first US cities to let restaurants extend dining space onto closed streets and open sidewalks, helping them stay in business while preserving social distancing.
Governors should be judged by their states’ records going into and coming out of this crisis. It’s a standard that elevates governors like Ron DeSantis and Bill Lee — and likely condemns Andrew Cuomo.
Michael Hendrix is a contributor to City Journal, from which this column was adapted.
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