Florida

British Variant Fails to Live Up to the Hype Again

This morning I wrote that despite the British Covid variant – supposedly much more deadly and contagious – being dominant in the UK since December, positive cases peaked 10 days before the January lockdown, and instead of a Christmas surge, infections plummeted in January and also failed to spike in schools when they reopened in March. In Denmark, too, the dominance of the British variant in January and February was marked not by a new surge in positive cases but precipitous decline, confounding predictions.

Now we have two more places that show the Kent variant is failing to live up to the hype. The table below from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that as of February 27th, Florida was the state with the highest prevalence of the British variant (B.1.1.7) at 13.2%, and Texas comes in third at 7.1%.

Source: CDC

These are also two of the most open states. Florida ended its restrictions in September and did not reimpose them in the winter, while Texas removed its remaining ones back at the start of March. So, for the past month neither has had any restrictions at all, let alone a lockdown “tough enough” to hold back the British variant. And what do we see? No new surge at all. The reopening in Texas even saw positive cases decline to their lowest level since last spring.

This isn’t modelling or prediction. It is cold, hard data on what happens when a state opens up or stays open for the winter. It is therefore also solid proof that restrictions are not needed to “control” the coronavirus. We already knew that from Sweden in the spring. Now we know it from Florida in the winter, and Texas, which is near the bottom of the pack when it comes to vaccinations, shows us what we can expect when we open up, British variant or no British variant.

Of course, there will still be new outbreaks of COVID-19, as some countries in Europe are currently experiencing. But how much more proof do governments and their scientists need that the threat is manifestly manageable without unprecedented restrictions on liberty, the efficacy of which is anyway unproven?

Kent Covid – not so much a tiger as a pussycat.

If Lockdowns Work, Why Has Florida Done Better Than California?

A new study has appeared that shows once more that lockdowns have no discernible effect on COVID-19 infections or deaths, despite their colossal costs and harms.

Maria Krylova, writing in the Canadian publication C2C Journal, looks in detail at two pairs of similar US states that implemented contrasting measures in response to the pandemic to see if there were significant differences when it came to Covid infections and deaths.

She explains that her research is motivated by a wish to see rational cost-benefit assessments of policies responding to pandemics.

While aimed at fighting the virus’s spread, the interventions imposed a massive toll in areas including global hungerdomestic abusemental and physical health problems, suicides and bankruptcies. Despite these grim consequences and, more recently, the accelerating pace of vaccinations and the gratifying reduction in deaths from COVID-19, many North American governments remain reluctant to ease the restrictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mused lately that the Canada-US land border would reopen “eventually”, while some public health figures are now calling for a third lockdown

Before we – again – do anything that drastic, we need to pose an important question: Did the lockdowns actually work? Not merely in the sense of keeping people at home and convinced that their governments were doing something; but in actually altering the course of the virus through the population. This should be a crucial matter of interest to every citizen and politician. It is key to rationally assessing the costs and benefits of imposing similar social and economic policies during the next serious epidemic.

She has gathered a wealth of information on the four states in question.

COVID-19-related state-level regulations and measures were gathered and examined in their temporal relationship to the pandemic’s development, reflected in the case and death statistics (daily and total) in two pairs of U.S. states. Each pair of states is broadly comparable in climate, population, urbanization and economic characteristics, but is contrasted in the degree of severity of its statewide rules.

Two are mid-sized, adjoining Midwest states: Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota had a hard and extended lockdown (many schools are still not open, for example), while Wisconsin had a short lockdown followed by moderate restrictions. The other two are southerly coastal states – California and Florida. California has had a hard and ongoing lockdown, while Florida has sought every opportunity to ease restrictions and reopen. Two other seemingly suitable cases were omitted: New York, a hard-lockdown state, because of its unique circumstances (including heavy mass-transit use in its largest city, and its deadly nursing home scandal), and South Dakota, North America’s only jurisdiction to remain fully open throughout the pandemic, because of its small and non-urbanized population.

There is an array of uncontrollable or unmeasurable variables related to the pandemic’s course, the public health response, the political response and the nature of the studied states that further complicates state-by-state comparison, increases uncertainty and, hence, lowers the confidence of conclusions. The process requires making a number of important assumptions. Among these are the accuracy of COVID-19 testing, the accuracy of case and fatality counts, and the state-to-state and temporal consistency of lockdown enforcement. The key assumptions are discussed in the Appendix.

Because the pandemic is ongoing, the observed trends are accurate to mid-March 2021. There is no intention to forecast the pandemic’s future course.

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.