Florida is Already Making Up for Lost Time

Much of America is only just beginning to emerge from almost a year under lockdown, but in Florida people are living their lives as close to normal as currently seems possible. The New York Times has the story.

Spring breakers flock to the beaches. Cars cram the highways. Weekend restaurant reservations have almost become necessary again. Banners on Miami Beach read “Vacation responsibly”, the subtext being, Of course you’re going to vacation.

Much of life seems normal, and not just because of the return of Florida’s winter tourism season, which was cut short last year a few weeks into the pandemic.

Florida reopened months before much of the rest of the nation, which only in recent days has begun to emerge from the better part of a year under lockdown. Live music returned this weekend to the bars of New Orleans. Crowds were pouring into restaurants in Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo. Movie theatres in California were poised to open their doors soon.

Texas reopened this past week from one side of the state to the other, with spring breakers revelling on South Padre Island. Playgrounds are packed in Chicago, and the Texas Rangers are preparing to fill their stadium to capacity next month for the debut of, by god, baseball season.

None of this feels particularly new in Florida, which slowed during the worst of the pandemic but only briefly closed. On the contrary, much of the state has a boomtown feel, a sense of making up for months of lost time.

And what of the state’s economic health? A comparison of its unemployment rate with that of states which imposed stricter lockdowns fits in with the (now well-established) relationship between more stringent lockdowns and greater economic suffering.

The unemployment rate is 5.1%, compared to 9.3% in California, 8.7% in New York and 6.9% in Texas. That debate about opening schools? It came and went months ago. Children have been in classrooms since the fall.

For better or worse, Florida’s experiment in returning to life-as-it-used-to-be offers a glimpse of what many states are likely to face in the weeks ahead, as they move into the next phase of the pandemic – the part where it starts to be over.

“If you look at South Florida right now, this place is booming,” Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, recently gloated. “Los Angeles isn’t booming. New York City isn’t booming.”

It’s not all roses, however, as Patricia Mazzei – the piece’s author – points out.

To bask in that feeling – even if it is only that – is to ignore the heavy toll the coronavirus exacted in Florida, one that is not yet over.

More than 32,000 Floridians have died, an unthinkable cost that the state’s leaders rarely acknowledge. Miami-Dade County averaged more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the past two weeks, one of the nation’s most serious outbreaks. And Florida is thought to have the highest concentration of B117, the more contagious virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

But despite the prevalence of the B117 variant (or the “Kent variant”), cases and hospitalisations continue to plunge across Florida as a whole. The Mail reports that Florida “has seen a 75% decline in total cases since early January”. Florida is actually coping better (in terms of its Covid death rate) than many other states which have enforced stricter lockdowns, Patricia highlights.

Florida’s death rate is no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists. Caseloads and hospitalisations across most of the state are down. The tens of thousands of people who died were in some ways the result of an unspoken grand bargain – the price paid for keeping as many people as possible employed, educated and, some Floridians would argue, sane.

Worth reading in full.

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