Florida Warned Over ‘Desperate’ Rush to Reopen

(Florida Health Department)

PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) — As daily Covid-19 case counts climb ever higher in Florida, a Miami bioethics expert is warning that rosy political narratives, combined with a rush to return to normalcy, are stifling the Sunshine State’s ability to get the outbreak under control.

Florida is seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases, with more than 10,500 positive Covid-19 tests confirmed in the last 48 hours.

The state’s single-day record was set Wednesday when the Florida Department of Health reported 5,500 new coronavirus cases.

A jump in the ratio of positive-to-negative tests in the last week has indicated Florida’s coronavirus surge is not solely the result of the state’s recent ramp-up in testing. The rate of positive cases has risen to more than 10% over the past week, from an average of between 2 and 5% in May, according to data from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. ​

(Florida Health Department)

Kenneth Goodman, founder and director of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, maintains that Florida’s reopening plan has been carried out with haste and a lack of scientific rigor. ​

“We’re just so desperate now to move forward swiftly – and our leaders have done so poorly – that we’re making mistakes,” Goodman told Courthouse News. “The best answer to the unanswered questions about the epidemic is science, not more narratives, not more wishful thinking, and not more politics from Washington.” ​

Goodman said that optimistic spin coming from President Donald Trump, who claimed last week that the epidemic was “dying out,” is at odds with the reality that doctors are facing in cities like Miami where there has been an “extraordinary surge” in coronavirus cases. Trump has touted a nationwide decrease in deaths from the virus, notwithstanding large spikes in confirmed cases in Florida, Texas, and California. ​

“We are rushing so much to return to normalcy, that we’re not doing what most businesspeople would do in ordinary circumstances, namely make sure you get it right,” Goodman said. ​

According to Goodman, Florida’s health department was financially strained before the epidemic, leaving the state ill-equipped to implement infection controls and carry out contact-tracing on infected patients in the early stages of the outbreak. ​

“The Florida Department of Health is staffed by a whole lot of smart, hard-working people who haven’t had the resources they need for decades. … We had a train wreck of a healthcare system before the Covid-19 crisis,” he said. “We want to reopen the economy. We want to see people putting their shoulders to the wheel and getting paid again. We want that in the worst possible way. But if you’re trying to manage a new virus on top of a system that was already broken, it makes our job all the more difficult.”​

Goodman said if the reopening is to be successful, a system for rapid coronavirus testing is needed, along with a program to distribute free masks to the public.

In a Tuesday press conference, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged the state’s recent coronavirus surge, proclaiming “this is real.”​

“[Residents] are … testing positive at a higher rate than they were before. And that would tell you that there’s probably been an escalation in transmission over the last 7 to 10 days,” DeSantis said. ​

DeSantis told reporters, however, that deaths from the virus have remained steady since May, a phenomenon he attributed to lower median age of those who test positive. He surmised that while the elderly population tended to stay home after the lockdown, younger Floridians rushed out to socialize and visit restaurants and bars. ​

“What we’ve seen, particularly over the last week, is a real explosion in new cases among our younger demographics,” DeSantis said.  ​

Florida reopened restaurants and retail stores on May 4 throughout most of the state. South Florida – the most densely populated area of the state — delayed commercial enterprise reopening until mid-May for most communities, while Miami held off until May 27. As far as state rules go, restaurants generally still cannot operate beyond 50% capacity. ​

The city of Miami and Palm Beach County are among local governments in South Florida that have responded to the June coronavirus spike by mandating that everyone wear face-coverings in public. ​

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