When pictures of crowded Florida beaches surfaced in mid-March, the nation braced for a New York-sized coronavirus disaster to wallop sunny Florida. “If I get corona, I get corona,” a particularly laissez-faire spring breaker said when interviewed.
- One widely cited model predicted 465,000+ hospitalizations by April 24.
But…that never happened
With the 32nd highest per capita infection rate in the country, Florida appears to have escaped the worst-case scenario. I want to be clear: The coronavirus remains a stubborn problem in Florida—the state recorded 927 new cases Saturday.
But considering the governor’s highly controversial response, the story is worth dissecting. Here are two potential explanations for what’s been happening in Florida:
- It protected nursing homes: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis knew the state’s roughly 350,000 nursing home residents and staff were especially susceptible to COVID-19. In addition to supplying PPE and ramping up testing at nursing homes, the state drew a hard line on readmitting potentially sick patients. “I’m not going to send anyone back to a nursing home who has the slightest risk of being positive,” said Mary Mayhew, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration.
- It’s big and hot: While there is no definitive evidence that warmer weather blunts the spread of the coronavirus, some experts believe it does play a factor. “SARS-CoV-2 probably does have some temperatures it likes better,” Dr. Larry Chang of Johns Hopkins Medicine told Slate. Also, compared to NYC, Florida is much less dense, has more single-family homes, and doesn’t rely on public transportation—all factors that may decrease the velocity at which the virus spreads.
And the economy?
Oxford Economics ranked Florida as the fourth-most vulnerable economy to the coronavirus, given its heavy reliance on tourism and large elderly population. For that reason, DeSantis resisted shutting the state down, saying, “You simply cannot lock down our society with no end in sight,” in a late March press conference. He did eventually issue a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1.
- However, that lockdown offered a broad definition of “essential businesses,” allowing daycares and other recreational businesses, like golf courses and pool care, to continue to function with restrictions.
The results for Florida’s economy were like a cheap homemade marg: mixed and disappointing. In April, unemployment surged to 12.9% and the housing market took a tumble, with single-family home sales dropping 20.7% over last year.
And then there’s tourism. The $75 billion slice of Florida’s economic pie was also its hardest hit. March hotel occupancy rates in the Tampa Bay area were down 40% year-over-year, while central Florida’s theme park industry was losing $205 million each day, according to estimates from April.
- However, this past week Disney announced it would reopen Disney World on July 11. Park goers and employees will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken, especially Goofy. That guy’s never been good with social distancing.
Observations from a current FL resident: Florida’s not out of the woods yet, but I’ve been quarantined here for three months and life is pretty much back to normal, besides the typical distancing/mask requirements. Considering its somewhat unconventional position in battling the coronavirus, I’m sure it’ll be used as a case study of some sort when historians look back on this pandemic.