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California and Florida are both struggling with COVID-19

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  • California is rolling back the reopening of its economy, closing bars state-wide following an increase in COVID-19 cases.
  • The state’s positive test rate has hit a two-week average of 7.4%.
  • The move comes weeks after Florida did the same. But the states are not doing equally as bad.
  • Florida’s positive test rate has been in the double digits for weeks, while California hasn’t cleared 10% since April.
  • “Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic,” Dr. Lilian Abbo, chief of infection prevention at Jackson Health System, told the Associated Press. “What we were seeing in Wuhan (China) six months ago. Now, we are there.”
  • “I think what has happened is that some states have been content to flatten the curve as opposed to really bend the curve, as opposed to really bend the curve and drive it down to zero,” Dr. Thomas Tsai, of Harvard University, told Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

California and Florida were both early COVID-19 success stories, with wildly different approaches: the former shut everything down early, and managed to escape the fate of New York, while the latter opened back up — bars, gyms, indoor dining — weeks before most other states.

Neither is in a particularly good place today. California reported more than 8,300 new coronavirus cases on July 13, up from just over 3,200 a month before. That’s not just because it’s conducting more tests, either; the rate of positives is climbing too, hitting 7.4% on Sunday, up from a 14-day average of 5.6% two weeks before. 

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, reversed course: instead of a phased reopening, he announced that he was closing bars, indoor restaurants, and movie theaters back down.

“This virus is not going away anytime soon,” he said.

It’s about time, John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m all for what he’s suggested,” Swartzberg told the paper. “And I’m sorry it wasn’t done two weeks ago.”

California, in fact, is acting weeks after Florida, the former role model for opening it all up. Bars in both states reopened in early June, but Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, prohibited the consumption of alcohol at bars in his state on June 26.

But while neither is in a great place, one is doing far worse. “Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic,” Dr. Lilian Abbo, chief of infection prevention at Jackson Health System, told the Associated Press. “What we were seeing in Wuhan (China) six months ago. Now, we are there.”

One of Abbo’s colleagues told Business Insider that it was DeSantis’ early decision to return to business as usual — opening up indoor dining in May, for example — that precipitated the current surge, which saw more than 15,300 Floridians diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sunday, a new record for any state.

“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, said in an interview.

Dr. Thomas Tsai, a public health expert at Harvard University, says Florida, unlike California, began reopening without really seeing a decline in infection. Both are struggling, he told Business Insider, but Florida is reporting far more cases than California with just over half the population — not because it’s conducting so many more tests, but because so many more people are testing positive.

Over the past two weeks, Florida’s positive rate has never fallen below 11.25% and, on July 8, it surged past 18%. California, by contrast, hasn’t hit double digits since April.

“California has been able to keep the lid on the pot and keep things from boiling over,” Tsai said. 

But, he added, “It really hasn’t had the opportunity to turn the temperature down.”

“In Florida, it’s the opposite,” Tsai commented. “I think what has happened is that some states have been content to flatten the curve as opposed to really bend the curve, as opposed to really bend the curve and drive it down to zero.”

The state has also failed to ramp up contact tracing. The epicenter of Miami-Dade County never fulfilled the mayor’s promise, back in May, to hire hundreds of tracers, as Business Insider has reported.

The focus, too often, has been on reopening the economy — no matter the long-term economic and personal cost, Tsai said. And some jurisdictions need to do a lot more than just scale back.

“Clearly, in the states where the pandemic has gotten out of control, a limited shutdown is needed to prevent hospitals from being overrun,” he said.

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