Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased significantly in Florida and other sunbelt states like Arizona and Texas over the last month. While these virus trends are concerning, they don’t warrant reimposing stay-at-home orders or closing schools.
Often left out of media reports on the Covid surge is a discussion of the demographics of who is getting the disease. The median age of those infected in the state has plummeted to about 38, down from over 50 in April. Given that about 84 percent of Florida’s Covid deaths have come among those aged 65 and over — and nursing homes account roughly half of deaths — this age change is a positive sign.
Not all Covid cases are created equal, and increased infections among the young and healthy should not be treated the same as if they came among the elderly and vulnerable. In fact, the higher the share of relatively resilient young people who get sick, the more herd immunity is built up to protect seniors and those with preexisting conditions.
A greater share of young people getting infected is partly responsible for the fall in the Covid death rate, which the Center for Disease Control recently estimated to be just 0.4 percent. That’s roughly an order of magnitude lower than the original estimates used to justify stay at home orders. The disproportionate impact that Covid has on the most vulnerable is a tragedy, but it neither justifies another broad shutdown nor the closing of schools.
The best medical evidence suggests that schools can reopen for in-person instruction as normal at the end of the summer. Children don’t seem to be affected by the disease much if at all. Adolescents also face an extremely low risk. Far more minors die from the flu than Covid.
A growing body of evidence also finds that kids don’t transmit the virus. A recent study out of Germany concludes that schools didn’t increase virus prevalence. A study from the Netherlands finds that transmission among children or from children to adults is uncommon. Empirically, Covid cases did not rise in Europe after schools reopened there in the spring.
School is vital for children’s scholastic and social development. More than half of all Florida students rely on their schools for food. Virtual schooling has been a disaster, with disproportionately bad outcomes for minorities who have less access to broadband. As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Keeping schools closed also delays the state’s economic recovery because parents need to stay home to look after their kids. As with a broad economic shutdown, not being able to go back to work because of childcare responsibilities contributes to sky-high unemployment, broken business dreams, and worsening mental health.
Roughly one-in-six Floridians who want a job can’t find one. A Florida State University study last month finds that 15.2 percent of businesses nationwide have closed their doors permanently due to Covid.
Meanwhile, booze sales are booming, and domestic abuse activists in the state fear an “explosive cocktail.” The Disaster Distress Helpline reports an 890 percent increase in call volume this spring over the same period last year. The mental health impact of the disease and societal shutdown will reverberate for years to come.
Rising Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the Sunshine State and elsewhere are worrisome and necessitate tailored interventions to protect the most vulnerable. But on closer inspection, they don’t require another broad shutdown or school closures, which are cures worse than the disease.
Lee S. Gross, MD is a practicing family physician in North Port, FL. He is President of Docs 4 Patient Care Foundation, a national health policy thinktank of practicing physicians, and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.