By Jeff Spencer
We need to open back up. Just not like this.
Governor DeSantis’s announcement two weeks ago that Florida would be opening back up in three phases was the right step made at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
There were two reasons for instituting a lockdown. First, was to bend the curve and reduce the numbers of hospitalizations to ensure that our healthcare system could handle the load. The lockdown and social distancing measures, which Governor DeSantis reluctantly and belatedly implemented, seem to have accomplished bending the curve.
The second reason was to buy the government time to put together a plan, which local governments and businesses could follow to open back up safely and efficiently. Governor DeSantis has outlined a plan, but it is missing the key ingredients that experts outlined as needed to open up safely.
For instance, the American Enterprise Institute – A conservative think-tank – produced a report designed to provide guidance for governors on how to open their states back up. In the report, it outlines four criteria needed, before states consider reopening. The report states the following;
“(1) the number of new cases has declined for at least 14 days; (2) rapid diagnostic testing capacity is sufficient to test, at minimum, all people with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as close contacts and those in essential roles; (3) the healthcare system is able to safely care for all patients, including having appropriate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers; and (4) there is sufficient public health capacity to conduct contact tracing for all new cases and their close contacts” – Guidance to Governors for Reopening, April 17th 2020.
The White House’s criteria outlines very similar benchmarks including declining cases, increased testing capacity, effective contact tracing, and hospital capacity to handle new patients. Liberal think tanks, like the Center for American Progress, outline additional measures in their plans but focus the bulk of their requirements on the same core requirements of falling cases, increased testing, and contact tracing.
Now, let’s look at Florida and see if we meet these requirements.
The number of cases does look to be falling; however, it is hard to trust those numbers when news outlets like the Tampa Bay Times have reported that state officials suppressed case numbers at the beginning of the outbreak. Nevertheless, let us assume that they are in fact falling.
Testing has increased, but not nearly enough to allow testing of all with symptoms, or their close contacts, nor essential workers. For instance, local hospitals are choosing to quarantine employees exposed to COVID positive cases rather than test them. This is due to a shortage of tests available. At least in Lee and Collier Counties we fail to meet criteria (2) outlined above.
As far as criteria (3) and (4) regarding contact tracing, a headline in the Tampa Bay Times sums up whether Florida meets this requirement.
“The state’s silence about any long-term plan to map the spread of the virus through contact tracing — a measure most public health officials agree is an essential tool to help parts of the economy safely reopen — has frustrated some elected officials.” May 6th 2020, tampabay.com
So on three of the four criteria outlined by a conservative think tank, criteria generally agreed upon by the White House and liberal think tanks; Florida does not meet the criteria.
It would be nice if the Center for Disease Control would weigh in on this matter. Oh, that’s right. The Trump administration shelved the CDC’s advice for some reason.
The Governor pushed ahead regardless.
To be clear, the failure is not simply that the Governor is ignoring the criteria. The failure is that the past two months of social distancing and lockdown were wasted and we are still missing the mark on the testing and contact tracing recommended by all the experts.
Voters need to be wary of a false choice during this election. Republicans are implying that Democrats want everything shutdown until there is a vaccine.
That is not the case.
Democrats want to open back up with the appropriate testing and contact tracing recommended by all the health care experts, as well as the conservative and progressive think tanks. Democrats want those in charge to follow the advice of expert healthcare professionals and epidemiologists.
Both parties want to open back up the economy, only one seems to be concerned with the advice of experts. Democrats want to open back up safely, Republicans just want to open back up.
Jeff Spencer is the Vice-Chair of the Collier County Democratic Party