By Jeff Spencer
As we enter week three of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s phased plan for reopening Florida, his office has already deviated from his phase 1 plan by increasing capacity at certain businesses to 50 percent.
The increase does not appear to meet the requirements outlined by the White House as DeSantis said would guide his decision-making. The White House outlined that there should either be a downward trajectory of documented cases or a downward trajectory of positive tests in order to begin reopening.
According to Florida Today, the 7-day rolling daily average on May 1st, the first day of reopening, was 650 new infection each day. Over two weeks later on May 17th, that average is at 687 new infections per day. The same report shows a small drop in the positivity rate from 5.3 percent to 4.7 percent, but coupled with the increase in daily new infections the state of the outbreak is at best flat.
If the number of cases were not falling, why would DeSantis approve allowing restaurants and other businesses to increase their capacity?
The decision lays bare the true intention of the plan in the first place. A token gesture, meant to provide political cover while the Governor pursues reopening the economy. The reason for mandating a decreased capacity in Phase 1 was to test out if the opening up would cause a spike in infections. The decision to increase capacity should be made based on whether the data indicates it is safe to do so, and nothing else.
The governor choosing to ignore the data when deciding how to move forward should not be a surprise given his decisions leading up to reopening. The task force the Governor assembled to discuss the possibility of reopening was criticized for having no medical doctors or scientists on the committee.
Even members of the committee wanted more input from medical professionals as Tampa Bay 10 reported on April 22:
“On Wednesday, several members of the executive committee said they would be far more comfortable moving forward with guidelines and recommendations if they had more input from people in the medical field.”
The Governor has chosen to follow President Trump’s lead, relying on blind faith that the virus will not make a resurgence. Blind faith eschewed by the nation’s top medical experts who testified last week that states should be careful with their reopening plans so they do not allow a resurgence in the virus.
Dr. Fauci, as reported by CNBC, stated the following regarding sticking to the guidelines,
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal,” – May 12 2020, cnbc.com
As DeSantis continues to brag about how the worst case predictions were off for Florida, his confidence in his handling of the crisis may be overstated. We are now learning that Governor DeSantis slow response at the outset of the pandemic was offset by the behavior of everyday Floridians.
An analysis done by the Tampa Bay Times shows that Florida residents were staying at home long before DeSantis gave into the advice of medical experts and issued a stay-at-home order:
“By the time each county shut down, there had been large reductions in activity, the cell phone data shows. People in the worst-hit counties were overwhelmingly staying home weeks before DeSantis’ order went out — and even before the much-earlier orders issued by local governments.”
This information should make the governor’s office take a pause and make sure that their decisions are truly safe and not leading to needless suffering and death, as Dr. Fauci warned. As the numbers continue to increase at the same pace, and the Governor pushes forward with his reopening efforts, it does not look like that is happening.
Regardless of the governo’s decision, Floridians should continue to view the Governors enthusiasm for reopening as skeptically as they viewed his recalcitrance toward closing.
The next two weeks will tell us more about how reopening is affecting Florida. According to the CDC, the incubation period from time of exposure to the development of symptoms is 2-14 days. Which means that people exposed 7 days ago may not develop symptoms until 7 days from now. There is a lag before new outbreaks become visible in case counts.
We are not following the guidelines outlined by the White House and yet we move through to the next phase of the plan. A plan described as allowing us to open up safely, but designed to open up regardless. If we avoid a resurgence for the second time, it will most likely come again from Floridians ignoring the Governor’s advice and staying home.
As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day. Let’s hope it is that time of day again, because this clock is definitely broken.
Jeff Spencer is the Vice-Chair of the Collier County Democratic Party