Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference this week that state health officials know a lot more about how to handle the coronavirus pandemic and that a move toward a significantly less restrictive Phase 3 may be on the horizon.
“My sense is some of these rigid capacity requirements probably aren’t necessary at this point,” DeSantis said. “I think people understand how to distance, how to do different things.”
Under the governor’s plan, “Phase 3” envisions businesses, including restaurants, bars, and even larger capacity venues like theaters and concert halls, to be allowed to operate with “limited social distancing protocols,” though sports venues like stadiums and arenas would still be urged to limit capacity. All businesses, schools and government facilities are urged to use vigorous cleaning and sanitization practices.
This week dealt a slight setback to the state when Quest Diagnostics dumped the results from a massive backlog of COVID-19 tests, some dating back several months. The result was a one day, 7,569 case “spike” on Tuesday. Wednesday’s new case tally was back down into the expected range of just 2,402 new cases. Here’s a look at that spike:
When plotted against the 7 day moving average, which removes peaks and valleys due to slowdowns in weekend testing, the “spike” is less significant, and it will likely result in a significant decline by next week when it is removed from the rolling average calculation:
Note the significant decline in hospitalizations starting around August 20th in the graph above (red line). That’s the line that is likely giving Governor DeSantis the confidence necessary to move Florida to Phase 3. Right now, across the entire state of Florida with more than 21.4 million people, just 3,508 are currently hospitalized for COVID-19. That’s much less than one percent. In fact it is only sixteen-thousandths of one percent of the state population.
Here’s a much closer look at the decrease in hospitalizations charted without new cases:
It’s that sort of massive dropoff that helps give DeSantis and other health officials confidence that Florida is headed in the right direction and that it is likely safe to further reopen the state’s economy.
That is not to make light of the disease, or to say that it’s not still dangerous and even deadly. It is. More on that in a moment. First, the CDC is now acknowledging that the vast majority of deaths attributed to COVID-19 had “underlying conditions.” Data in Florida back this up. The vast majority of deaths have been among the state’s older population, where many other maladies allowed the coronavirus to act as an “accelerant” of sorts and bring death sooner than it would have otherwise occurred.
Lest we think that having no underlying conditions means this illness is not to be feared, the entirety of the nation’s legacy news media, freaking out that people might be less scared as a result, then wrote wave after wave of “news” stories to re-educate readers that, yes, the disease is still killing lots of people.
And in fact, that is true: it’s killing those who are most vulnerable, when they otherwise might have survived a while longer. Here’s the chart for Florida’s excess deaths (blue lines) charted against “expected deaths” (orange line), based on historical data. Deaths each week above the orange line are considered “excess deaths,” which are the total number of deaths attributed to all causes, not just COVID-19. For the doubters and conspiracy theorists out there, it is quite obvious that something is killing people in Florida this summer – something that is typically not killing people any other summer over the past few years. And given the spike in COVID-19 cases at the exact same time as the spike in Florida deaths, it’s safe to say that COVID-19 had a hand in the carnage:
What DeSantis knows, because the finest epidimiologists and statisticians in Florida are telling him this, is that Florida is likely to have a significant drop in all cause deaths in the very near future. Why? Because the state’s vulnerable population is already dying from the disease, and they won’t be able to die later.
We are already seeing this play out in other hard-hit areas, like New York City, where deaths spiked early on and are well below the expected line over the summer:
Where Florida goes from here though largely depends on the question of how Florida handles coronavirus outbreaks at school. If we can successfully screen, identify and isolate students with COVID-19, then it’s safe to say we probably have found a way to cope with the disease. Florida and the rest of the country will ultimately learn to live with the disease until we can eradicate it or reach heard immunity.
One thing we know for certain, though: hiding from it, isolating ourselves, and hoping it just goes away, isn’t going to solve anything, and will only destroy our economy while prolonging the effects of the disease.