Florida’s COVID-19 restrictions exemplifies how states can reopen

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Gage Skidmore | Flickr

Dani Heba

A year after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of the greatest tragedy this country has faced since World War II, 500,000 people are dead and many are suffering economically and mentally due to lockdowns.

However, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis never imposed a mask mandate and only completely locked the state down for one month.

Even among pressure and ridicule, DeSantis stood tall and declared that Florida would remain open.

“We’re not rolling back,” DeSantis said when asked about potentially halting re-opening efforts in June 2020.

Yet, despite all the ridicule and negative media coverage of his job handling the pandemic, Florida is doing better economically than states that continue to endure reopening restrictions, such as New York and California, and states that have average statistics in terms of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and infection rates those with the highest statistics.

Per 100,000 people, Florida has 9,308 cases of COVID-19, in comparison with the 9,146 per 100,000 in New York and the 9,209 per 100,000 people in California, The New York Times reports.

However, Florida, had no COVID-19 restrictions in place since September 2020, and New York and California continue to maintain some of the nation’s strictest measures.

COVID-19 death rates are substantially higher in New York than in Florida, with the rate being 253 deaths per 100,000 people in New York, in comparison to 152 deaths per 100,000 people in Florida. In California, the rate is slightly lower, but very comparable, to that of Florida, with 145 deaths per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate statewide in Florida is at 4.8% as of January 2021, in comparison to New York’s being at 8.8% and California’s being at 9%.

Since Jan. 20, New York’s employment rates have decreased by 12%, California’s have decreased by 11.8% and Florida’s have decreased by only 4.3%, according to Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker by Harvard University, Brown University and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In Tampa, this number is an increase of 2.9%.

“Los Angeles isn’t booming. New York City’s not booming. It’s booming here because you can live like a human being,” DeSantis said to CNN, while comparing South Florida’s economy to those of New York City and Los Angeles.

However, others are not as quick to praise DeSantis, claiming that university students who travel to Florida for spring break often get sick and spread COVID-19 back in their home states.

“To put it another way, Florida may welcome spring tourists with open arms, knowing they’ll be someone else’s problem when they become sick and spread their illness far and wide,” Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist for The Los Angeles Times wrote.

Politically, the lack of COVID-19 restrictions has paid dividends for DeSantis, as he has a high approval rating among Floridians. According to a new Mason-Dixon Poll, 53% say they approve, 42% disapprove and 5% aren’t sure.

It’s also landed him as a frontrunner to be the potential Republican presidential nominee to run against President Joe Biden in 2024, with 43% of CPAC attendees saying they’d vote for him if former President Donald Trump chose not to run. If Trump were to run, DeSantis finished in second, with 21% support.

Meanwhile, the disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing bipartisan calls to resign over eight sexual harassment allegations and counting, along with underreporting nursing home deaths.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing an aggressive recall effort by those who are not only upset with his handling of the pandemic, but at how he had broken his own COVID-19 restrictions.

Given America’s deep-rooted libertarian culture, questions certainly arise as to what authority a Western power should have in declaring authoritarian measures such as lockdowns. This is why it is not surprising to see that less than half of Americans would support another round of
lockdowns as of November 2020.

The main purpose of lockdowns was not to eradicate COVID-19, which would have been a near impossible task anyway. Lockdowns were initiated so that hospitals would have the pressure on them alleviated.

While governors ordered lockdowns for their residents, they should have been focused on increasing hospital capacity to be prepared for future waves of COVID-19 and to ease the stress on healthcare workers and the hospital system. China understood this, and built a hospital in 10 days.

If governors were this quick to act, lockdowns would be entirely out of the discussion because hospitals would have had the capacity to handle patients.

In addition, fears of poverty and mental health after COVID-19 are no longer a pandemic cloud society, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and face of the country’s COVID-19 response, telling CBS News on March 11 that he is “very much so” concerned about a mental health pandemic.

“That’s the reason why I want to get the virological aspect of this pandemic behind us as quickly as we possibly can, because the long-term ravages of this are so multifaceted,” Fauci said.

Lockdowns need to end to get businesses back to doing business and employing people again and children need to go back to the classroom to catch up on their learning.

Governors must now do their duty to effectively and equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccines, and ensure that hospital capacity is open enough to endure another potential wave of COVID-19, without locking down.

Florida has shown that despite the pandemic, states can relieve their restrictions without significantly impacting death rate or case rates and prevent economic, educational and mental catastrophe from being the country’s next pandemic.