By Anne Butler
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the United States in every state at this point, both in terms of its climbing death toll and its economic impact. Due to the early and sudden economic impact of COVID-19 with widespread job losses and furloughs, certain states moved to end their shutdowns earlier than others. One state that received particular criticism for its early reopening was Florida.
COVID-19 is a virus with a somewhat lengthy incubation period. This means that a person infected with the virus can take up to two weeks to exhibit symptoms; furthermore, some carriers of the virus are symptomatic, but can still spread it to others who may very well suffer from symptoms. Accordingly, it may be weeks before the full effect of opening prematurely can be seen in a state.
Florida cited several reasons for its early reopening. The state is heavily reliant on tourism in terms of its economy, especially in its coastal cities. Florida beaches drive a lot of revenue for business owners, particularly during the summer months. The state is also home to several prominent theme parks, most notably Disney World. Without the state opening on a more general level, these theme parks would be unable to open in turn.
Clearly, these issues concerned state lawmakers. However, opponents decried the decision to reopen so quickly, citing a lack of ability in controlling the spread of the virus, particularly within major gathering places like the beaches and Disney World. Enough time has passed that both the experts and the average citizens within Florida have been able to see noticeable effects of this controversial decision.
Unfortunately, Florida has seen cases increase to a staggering degree. Thus far, the highest number of daily cases reported was seen on July 12, with a record 15,300 cases being reported in Florida. This easily outpaced the previous American record for the highest increase of daily cases, and over 350,000 people have been infected within the state at this time. While the COVID-19 virus is not necessarily guaranteed to kill everyone that it infects, it can be spread to vulnerable populations like the immune-compromised and the elderly, incredibly easily. Furthermore, as a popular state among retirees, Florida is particularly vulnerable to its effects. Therefore, this quick spread within the state is particularly troubling.
Generally speaking, the United States has suffered a devastating death toll in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 140,000 Americans have died of the virus thus far, and those numbers are only rising, in part thanks to the fact that Florida's case numbers are rising and the state's individual death toll in turn. Within the past week, 740 deaths were reported as well, which was yet another record-breaking number within the state. To put these numbers in context, as of Sunday, July 19, 4,982 Florida residents and 109 non-residents have died from COVID-19 state-wide. In comparison, 3,651 people died as a result of car accidents in California in 2018. Not only did this number, connected to what is typically a far greater danger to people, cover an entire year as opposed to the few months in which COVID-19 has been an issue, it also was reported by an objectively more populated state. As such, this statistic is particularly shocking. That being said, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does estimate that roughly 10 million crashes go unreported every year. But the vast majority of these unreported crashes do not involve fatalities, whereas fatalities connected to COVID-19 are not so rare. No matter what, the death toll is unacceptable, and if Florida's cases continue to rise the death toll will likely follow suit.
There are a number of issues that come with a rising number of cases in Florida, the death toll aside. Not all COVID-19 cases are especially serious. Some can be treated at home, provided the affected individual quarantines properly. However, some otherwise mild cases do require hospitalization, especially if those afflicted suffer from other respiratory illnesses like asthma. More serious cases typically do require hospitalization, and these patients typically need to be placed on a ventilator if symptoms progress to a more critical stage. An early concern as the pandemic hit the United States was that of whether or not there would be enough hospital beds to accommodate those affected by the virus, as well as enough ventilators. As Florida experiences this new surge of cases, this may very well become a concern again.
In the long term, a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida is that emergency services will be strained. Already, Americans have a heavy reliance upon 24-hour access to the care given by emergency departments. This is to the point that emergency department visits have increased by 22% over the past decade alone. As the number of cases rise and people suffer from more serious symptoms, invariably a lot of different people will be making calls to emergency departments, perhaps more so than they normally would. This may result in a strain being placed upon first responders, to accompany the different level of strain being placed upon healthcare workers. As these responders and healthcare workers are exposed to the virus on a regular basis, they will likely be required to quarantine as soon as they show symptoms. Therefore, there may be fewer of them on the ground than there normally would be, exacerbating the aforementioned strain. Ultimately, this may result in an overtaxed public healthcare system.
There are a number of different issues that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic involves the spread of an illness, and people will be suffering outright from the symptoms that come from this illness. Florida may be forced to evaluate the consequences of its relatively early reopening, and in the future it may very well be forced to close again to combat the spread of the virus.
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