Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we call “The Wrap.”
The pandemic officially ended last week, like it or not.
With little fanfare, Florida’s victory over the COVID-19 pandemic came on June 4th, 2021. In a move that has already proven more liberating than declaring an end to mask mandates and limited capacity indoor dining, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis single-handedly defeated the virus this month with the simple act of ending Florida’s daily reporting of virus statistics.
The result is most apparent on the New York Times’ graph of Florida’s data (pictured above), and also available via a Google search. The graph, now empty for the past week, shows Florida’s COVID-19 cases have plummeted to a record low of zero for the first time since the pandemic began.
Obviously, that’s not the real number. But hear me out.
As the publisher of many coronavirus news and analysis stories that garnered a substantial number of page views and site visitors based on that data over the past year, DeSantis’s move to cut off that flow last week came as a harsh blow, as if he was merely wishing the virus away. Undoubtedly, a number of other media outlets, journalists, and even everyday citizens who grew into the habit of checking the data with the same frequency they once checked the weather, all felt the same way.
What do we do now? How will we know if the virus is coming back? What happens if it sneaks up on us? Is anyone paying attention anymore?
But something strange happened over the last week. The lack of daily pandemic data has forced media outlets like ours to focus time and attention on other topics rather than worry about small, insignificant shifts in hospitalizations, infections, deaths, and vaccination rates. Shifting our collective attention away from that daily drip of bad news has the effect of breaking a trance, of ending our collective public “analysis paralysis,” as if we’re all suddenly waking from a coronavirus coma and walking out into the sunshine for the first time in over a year.
After all, it’s not as if we’re all experts who deserve that data served up on a daily basis.
Yes, the virus is deadly serious and a grave threat to some people, and for that reason, we all have to do our part to be responsible and protect one another. But while we were all locked down, hiding from the virus, many of us who aren’t experts in epidemiology or virology or any other “-ology” were left with little to do except obsess over the data, trying to divine the future from the wholly inadequate “trend line” plot generated from a hastily cobbled together Excel spreadsheet. As I look back at some of our previous reporting, in some cases, it’s frankly a little embarrassing.
What good did all those charts and graphs do? Well, in my case, the dopamine hit in my brain increased after conducting every analysis because I’d publish my findings here, at The Capitolist, and get instantly rewarded with a massive spike in traffic. It turns out I wasn’t the only one addicted to the colorful charts and graphs that plotted our past but couldn’t possibly predict our future.
In cutting off the daily drip of data doom, DeSantis has done everyone a favor, by returning the authority over that data to the people who actually need it, increasing its value by making it less of a consumer-level commodity. Without that data to crunch, the rest of us armchair epidemiologists can now safely return to our day jobs. I’m confident we’ll be notified the moment our deep and insightful analysis is needed again.