Answering the call from Lockdown Sceptics for news from the reopened states in America with which to shame our own timid Government, Julian Boulter sent us this dispatch from Florida. More stories will follow.
We are a family of three Brits – although my wife was born South Korean – living in Naples, Florida for the past six and a half years.
Florida, in line with most other states, issued a Shelter-at-Home order (lockdown) in April 2020, but in Florida this only lasted for one month; eight states followed South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s lead in not locking down at all, preferring to share the data with their populations and only making recommendations on behaviour. Governor Noem has eloquently pointed out that all businesses are essential to those who own them and it is not the Government’s place to decide otherwise.
Between May and the end of August 2020, Florida gradually re-opened (against the wishes of President Trump), although schools did not resume in-person learning until the start of the 2020/2021 year in August, and then with masks in classrooms. In September Governor Ron DeSantis met with the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration (Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University) and took their advice about a focused protection approach rather than any continuing restrictions.
He has subsequently issued Executive Orders that strengthen Floridian’s rights to decide for themselves on mask wearing and taking the vaccine, and has banned vaccine passports. At the same time he ensured care homes and the vulnerable were protected – witness a death per million rate that ranks around 26 of 50 states – and is better than the UK, despite having some similarities with the UK (same average age of population, same urban density and worse metabolic health).
I returned to the office in June 2020 (no masks) and have been working there ever since. We had our first two cases of COVID-19 in May this year; both have recovered and are back at work. My daughter has had to wear a mask to class, but that is all. The school averaged four to five cases a week but did not shut down any classes at any time; testing was not required. Her High School Graduation was at the local Concert Centre, who insisted on reduced numbers and masks; by contrast, the graduating students and parents’ dinner at a local country club earlier in the week had 300 people with no masks, and a packed dance floor. We’ve been eating in restaurants for months. Last year we went to the Florida Keys diving twice, and drove up to St Augustine for a few days earlier this year. We had friends drive across from Texas to stay with us for a few days back in May.
We’ve been back in church and singing in the choir since well before Christmas, although we also had a separate service for those who wished to wear masks. In May we moved to a combined service, and we also had international opera star Jeannette Vecchionne-Donati performed a charity benefit concert to a packed Church, no masks (video here).
It’s also worth noting that politics is very polarised here and many are sceptical of President Biden, Dr Fauci and Bill Gates, and are reluctant to take the vaccine, so take-up appears to have stalled; infections and deaths however have continued to decline. In fact, I think I know more people who will not take the “experimental gene therapy” than have had the vaccine. Governor DeSantis’s current mantra is that Florida chose “Freedom over Faucism”.