Cumberland Advisors Market Commentary – Siesta, Longboat, COVID, Masks & More

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: December 11, 2020
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Sarasota-based, Cumberland champions mask wearing and other COVID-prevention measures. We also champion business.  We believe that Florida’s economics are better served with basic prevention measures in place. We would not lock down everything. We would require basic civic responsibilities, such as mask wearing in a deadly pandemic. The principle is the same as permitting or restricting drunk drivers.  It’s simple: drive sober, wear a mask in public, protect yourself and others.  Go home and do what you want as long as you don’t threaten others.

Market Commentary - Cumberland Advisors - Siesta, Longboat, COVID, Masks & More

This week, in a nearby Sarasota Publix grocery store, some of the customers were unmasked. Why? One reason is that Florida’s Governor DeSantis issued an executive order preventing local communities from enforcing mask ordinances they instituted to protect their citizens.

We set about to search for local facts that support a simple, enforceable masking ordinance. Not a lockdown. Just “wear a mask in public or pay a fine if you don’t.” Let’s take a look at some interesting demographic data, including COVID-19 infection rates. We’ll compare the communities of (bayfront) Sarasota City (including Lido Key), Siesta Key, and Longboat Key.

Here’s a map:

SRQ Map 2020-12-11(source: Google Maps)

Our findings: if you reside in bayfront Sarasota City, your chances of contracting COVID are 2.8 times greater than if you live in Longboat Key and 1.8 times greater than if you’re in Siesta Key. And, Siesta Key residents are 1.5 times more likely to catch COVID than Longboat Key dwellers are. Here are the ratios in terms of infection rates:

Area (ZIP Code)      Infection rate
(bayfront) Sarasota City (34236) 3.78%
Siesta Key (34242) 2.08%
Longboat Key (34228) 1.35%

(Sources for all demographic data: Florida COVID Action, https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/d2726d6c01c4486181fec2d4373b01fa and ZipDataMaps, https://www.zipdatamaps.com. All data is through November 30.)

So, we ask, why are there such large differences?

We do know that masks make a difference. That’s been clear for months. See, for example, the difference that a mask mandate made in Kansas in cities that enforced the mandate versus communities that opted out: “Mask mandate in Kansas helped slow the spread of COVID-19, CDC research finds,” https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/527015-mask-mandate-in-kansas-helped-slow-the-spread-of-covid-19-cdc-research.  Masking reduces disease and deaths; the evidence is consistent worldwide.

Longboat Key, with its low infection rate, has a mask ordinance. Sarasota City, with its much higher infection rate, also has an ordinance. Siesta Key, with an infection rate about midway between the other two areas, is in Sarasota County and the county government has no mask ordinance.

However, we must remember that on Nov. 25 Florida Governor DeSantis extended his September executive order banning local governments from enforcing mask ordinances by imposing modest fines, even as the state’s confirmed case count has now exceeded 1 million and confirmed COVID Florida resident deaths approach 20,000 (“DeSantis extends order banning local governments from enforcing mask mandate violations,” https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/11/25/gov-desantis-extends-order-banning-local-governments-from-enforcing-mask-mandate-violations/). An ordinance without a penalty or enforcement has few teeth, as we all know.  DeSantis removed the enforcement penalty about two moths ago.

So, our data examination has to consider that mask wearing enforcement was effectively reduced to an individual decision in the middle of the data series.  We asked what other factors may be in play?

It takes 5 minutes to drive from St. Armand’s Circle on Lido Key to bayfront Sarasota.  It’s about 10 minutes drive north to central Longboat Key and about 15 minutes to drive south to downtown Siesta Key. There is constant intermingling of people in the three areas. Sarasota City, Siesta, and Longboat can be seen as a microcosm of our nation, where states with limited COVID-19 restrictions are spreading the disease to stricter neighbors (“States With Few Coronavirus Restrictions Are Spreading the Virus Beyond Their Borders,” https://www.propublica.org/article/states-with-few-coronavirus-restrictions-are-spreading-the-virus-beyond-their-borders).

In addition to this cross traffic, we considered population density. Bayfront Sarasota has 4082 people per square mile; Siesta Key has 2611 people/sq. mi.; and Longboat Key has just 1817 people/sq. mi. as one can see, these density numbers align with the COVID infection rates for the three areas. Bayfront Sarasota is home to the Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, and Westin hotels, with their dense visitor traffic mixing with locals. Lido’s beaches and restaurants on Lido’s St. Armand’s Circle are often well-packed. Comparing Siesta to Longboat, Siesta has a nightlife-oriented downtown; Longboat is notably more sedate.

Another factor could be wealth. Both Longboat Key and Siesta Key are wealthy communities. Median income for Longboat is $108,226, for Siesta $85,068. For bayfront Sarasota the figure is just $44,351. Those numbers also align with COVID infection levels.  We infer that people at lower income levels often work riskier jobs during a pandemic.

Age is also a big factor. We were able to obtain data by ZIP Code for the population over age 65. For our three areas the numbers look like this:

Area (ZIP Code) % over 65 Median income Infection rate
bayfront Sarasota (34236) 40.2% $44,351 3.78%
Siesta Key (34242) 44.50% $85,068 2.08%
Longboat Key (34228) 67.3% $108,226 1.35%

We’ve put the numbers for median income and infection rate up alongside the percentages of over-65s in order to further point up the strong correlation among the three variables: age, wealth, resident population density.

Here are questions to consider.

Are relatively wealthy seniors more likely to wear masks, respect social distancing, and observe COVID precautions? That seems likely, especially when we note that 80% of COVID deaths nationwide have occurred in those 65 years and older. In Florida, that figure is 83%. (“What Share of People Who Have Died of COVID-19 Are 65 and Older – and How Does It Vary by State?” https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/what-share-of-people-who-have-died-of-covid-19-are-65-and-older-and-how-does-it-vary-by-state/)

But remember that correlation does not equal causation. To firmly establish causation, we need more extensive data, much larger sample sizes, and the ability to test variables independently. So we can really only draw inferences but do not have proofs.  At the bottom we will demonstrate that the data already exists.

Causation proof aside, we infer that those who live and work around us in bayfront Sarasota or Lido Key are more apt to catch COVID than those who live on the other nearby keys. And we reasonably infer that a town with a masking ordinance and a careful population is a safer place than one without them. Residents on the keys want masking ordinances to protect themselves from disease and death and to limit the economic and business damage caused by COVID.

Here’s a link to a Dec. 3 story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “Secrecy and spin: How Florida’s governor misled the public on the COVID-19 pandemic,” https://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-coronavirus-florida-desantis-spin-ss-prem-20201203-tyjmgkos6bd7vo7vnripqliany-htmlstory.html. Please take the 5–6 minutes to read about the disastrous performance of the DeSantis administration in handling the pandemic. And here’s a story from Boca about the careful handling of the pandemic in tourist-dependent Hawaii versus that in Florida: “Here’s What It’s Like To Travel To Hawaii, And Why It Makes Florida Look So Bad,” https://bocanewsnow.com/2020/12/05/heres-what-its-like-to-travel-to-hawaii-and-why-it-makes-florida-look-so-bad.  And here’s a Tampa Bay Times story about the DeSantis administration’s strong-arm invasion and search of the home of Rebekah Jones, who created and maintains the Florida COVID Action dashboard, the data source we depend on because the Florida Dept. of Health website is suspect: “Florida investigation into COVID-19 whistleblower draws rebuke from Crist, others,” https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2020/12/08/florida-investigation-into-covid-19-whistleblower-draws-rebuke-from-crist-others/. The video of that raid has now had millions of views worldwide: https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2020/12/07/agents-raid-home-fired-florida-data-scientist-who-built-covid-19-dashboard-rebekah-jones/6482817002/.

We have received many emails asking us if it is safe to come to Florida. Our answer: safety and caution must drive any decisions and we recommend visitors do research beyond what the Florida governor tells you.

Lastly, in Florida there are hotels and businesses that want you. At Cumberland, we want you. We have clients and referring consultants throughout the state. They want you.  And they are worried about their safety and yours.

Let’s propose a solution to the data problem.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have information for every ZIP Code in Florida on COVID-19 testing, (positive or negative) antibody test results, infections that required hospitalizations and infections that did not, recoveries, and a breakdown of hospitalizations with admissions, ICU stays, ventilator uses, recovery discharges, and deaths? All of this could be made available. The raw information already exists.  Think about it: Your ZIP Code is on every item that pertains to you as a Florida resident. And it is on every Florida resident’s health record.

The only thing that stops the process of such useful data gathering and dissemination is Governor DeSantis. Likewise, the only thing that keeps a mask enforcement program from diminishing disease and death in Florida is Governor DeSantis’s executive order thwarting the communities that have passed masking ordinances. DeSantis could institute an effective COVID-mitigation program tomorrow. And he could give the mayors and communities, that are begging for relief, the authority to govern themselves.

David R. Kotok
Chairman of the Board & Chief Investment Officer
Email | Bio

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