Florida-COVID Update

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: December 20, 2020
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As much as you may know about airborne transmission of COVID-19, something new may be learned from this video. How risky is it, for instance, to stand in line behind someone who is wearing a loosely fitted mask? Find out. See “Military-grade camera shows risks of airborne coronavirus spread,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2020/12/11/coronavirus-airborne-video-infrared-spread/

Camera shows risks of airborne coronavirus spread

We thank all the readers for many comments about our ongoing writing about COVID and Florida. Responses are divided but are heavily in favor of what we are conveying. Thank you to all who have acknowledged that we try to link the source on every item and therefore allow readers to make their own evaluations.

This Sunday, we are worried about a COVID surge in Florida. We are a wide-open state with essentially no mitigation and no enforcement of a prevention policy. We are particularly worried because, according to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital,

“Florida ranks among the highest states in the country for health disparities, with the worst health outcomes consistently experienced by those who are uninsured, and by children who live in poverty. Physician researchers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and their collaborators have embarked on an innovative research study designed to understand the social, economic and health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon a diverse population of young children (birth to 8 years old) and their families within the Tampa Bay region, and to identify key factors that make children most vulnerable to the pandemic’s damaging effects.”

 (“Confronting the Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Families Using a Research Focus on the Social Determinants of Health,” https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/ACH-News/General-News/Confronting-the-Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Children-and)

Our pandemic plight here is due to Governor DeSantis’s policies and lack thereof. We have published multiple commentaries to support that view.

Here is the latest report on the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s assessment of Florida’s “turning red.” See “White House report puts Florida in ‘red zone,’ stronger measures ‘must happen now’ (https://www.foxnews.com/us/white-house-report-florida-red-zone-stronger-measures-now). The Coronavirus Task Force’s document, which Governor DeSantis declined to make public, is here: https://beta.documentcloud.org/documents/20423404-florida_12_06_2020.

On Dec. 11 the Orlando Sentinel sued DeSantis for his refusal to release these weekly reports from the White House Task Force, which are intended to be widely shared; and on Dec. 16, in response to the Sentinel’s lawsuit, DeSantis did release two Task Force reports that are more than a month old. However, the Sentinel’s lawsuit is not yet resolved, because the state has still not agreed to release all former and future reports in a timely manner. (“2 White House task force reports released by DeSantis’ office after Orlando Sentinel sues,” https://www.orlandosentinel.com/coronavirus/os-ne-coronavirus-task-force-report-partial-release-20201216-c7jwhuchpvboljkwrbcn2uu7bi-story.html)

Note that I’m purposefully sourcing the Trump White House, Fox News, and local Florida media sources so I can avoid some of the barbs that coming flying when we use other sources. (Shame on our country for succumbing to such a nasty political divide.)

In Florida, there is no masking except voluntary masking. In Florida, there is no social distancing except voluntary social distancing. Please note, too, that there is negligible contact tracing in Florida. You come here at your own risk, and you stay here knowing that you must depend on the goodwill and responsibility of your neighbors and on your own self-imposed COVID safety measures. State policy will not help much to protect you.

To make matters worse, in Florida there is an ongoing dispute about factual accuracy of COVID data. And there is an ongoing controversy about the DeSantis administration’s using misleading techniques to depict the COVID crisis as less serious than it really is. Here’s an example. Florida reports deaths of residents only and does so by date of death. The gathering of those statistics is done with a time lag, so the report of deaths today is really only a partial report. Thus the chart tracking Florida’s COVID deaths on the official Florida Department of Health’s website will always show a declining trend because the latest data is always incomplete. The numbers for a given day rise as the data trickles in. Meanwhile, deaths attributable to non-residents’ getting infected in Florida and then “taking COVID home” with them do not appear in Florida’s data.

The most notable data gap occurred in the days leading up to the November 3 election, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel (“A mysterious gap in COVID-19 deaths appeared in Florida before the presidential election,” https://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-ss-prem-covid-deaths-florida-election-20201216-f4kgezjf4rf75ppumt4omxfsxy-story.html)

When the DeSantis administration misreports and misconstrues COVID data, it encourages others to do so, too. On Dec. 10, Yinon Weiss tweeted a series of charts, with commentary, to support his dubious claim that “following the science” and imposing mask requirements, curfews, lockdowns, and other pandemic countermeasures was ill-advised and ineffective. He had this to say about Florida:

“Let’s look at Florida, which effectively ended COVID restrictions on Sept 25th. Those crazies with their open schools, open business, and people who get to live their lives. Barbarians!”

He included this chart:

Florida-Covid Update - Chart 01

(https://twitter.com/yinonw/status/1336902407620415488)

The dates along the X-axis are difficult to read, but they start at the left with 9/1/2020 and run to 12/18/2020. What this chart conveniently omits is what happened in Florida in the month prior to September. Here are two charts that fill in the picture.

This one covers the period from March 2 to June 20:


(WTSP, Tampa Bay, https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/florida-coronavirus-cases-and-deaths-live-updates/67-d236a427-6262-41b5-b70d-747d6a14e428)

On June 3, Governor DeSantis announced that Florida could move into Phase 2 reopening, except for portions of South Florida. By June 10, Miami Beach and other South Florida beaches had reopened. Note the very steep uptrend in cases from early June forward.

The next chart covers the period from June 22 to December 7:

Florida-Covid Update - Chart 03
(Tallahassee Reports, https://tallahasseereports.com/2020/12/15/two-charts-show-positive-trends-for-florida-in-coronavirus-battle/)

We see that cases continued to skyrocket in Florida as the government persisted in its laissez-faire attitude toward the pandemic. The peak came on July 12, when 15,299 new cases were reported, then fell to a low of 2000 new cases a day in early October. We note that while case numbers fell in the late summer months, record-high COVID death number continued to be registered. For instance, on August 4 a record 277 people succumbed to the virus in Florida.

Then, from mid-October, case numbers began to climb strongly again, as both Floridians and out-of-state visitors flocked to our beaches, theme parks, and other attractions. Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis had not helped the cause of pandemic containment with his September 25 executive order that overruled the local cities that had put in place masking regulations.

Yinon Weiss’s chart, which we showed above, is meant to demonstrate that, because Florida’s COVID death rate per million people is lower than those of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and California (at “only” 400), the DeSantis administration must be doing a good job by providing almost no pandemic leadership at all.

But bragging about Florida’s death rate per million using in-state deaths is grossly misleading. This would be like Sturgis, South Dakota, using its town’s local death and infection rates and saying, “Look how little virus there was from Sturgis.” We’ve offered the comparison between Hawaii and Florida, two tourist destinations with diametrically opposed policies. Here it is again from a Boca publication: “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/. The writer traveled and made his own personal observations regarding the contrasts between the conscientiously enforced policies for travelers coming to Hawaii (COVID test no more than 72 hours before a flight, possible 14-day quarantine if anything is amiss, and enforced mask wearing for all) and policies for travelers coming to Florida. As of December 5, he noted, “In Hawaii, the positivity rate is 2 percent. 242 people have died. 18,117 have been infected. In Florida, the positivity rate is hovering at 10 percent. 1,039,030 people have been infected. 18,994 have died.”

Now Florida is turning red. And we also now see an outbreak in the United Kingdom of what appears to be a new and aggressive coronavirus mutation. While the new strain of the virus may not be more virulent, it is, perhaps, more contagious (“A New Strain of Covid-19 Has Emerged In England – Here Is What It Could Mean for The Pandemic and Vaccines,” https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2020/12/15/a-new-strain-of-covid-19-has-emerged-in-englandhere-is-what-it-could-mean-for-the-pandemic-and-vaccines/).

So, what have DeSantis and Florida done? How many flights are there to Florida from Europe and especially the UK? Where do they land? We won’t attempt to be exhaustive, but, as an example, at present, approved passengers can fly from London to Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Fort Myers. Once they land, they are met only with COVID-related recommendations but not enforced requirements, as would be the case in Hawaii.

Dear readers, we know this is not happy Sunday reading. We wish circumstances were otherwise. While we patiently wait for a vaccine rollout over the next months, please be safe and careful. Please celebrate the holidays very cautiously this year so we can celebrate them more traditionally and be physically together next year.

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