As states crack down on COVID-19, in surging Florida, it's silence from DeSantis
Florida has 870,552 coronavirus cases with 17,659 deaths; Polk County has 24,941 cases with 647 deaths.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is an outlier among his fellow state leaders who in recent days have cracked down on bars, restaurants and other businesses in hopes of curbing the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Even as the number of new cases in Florida on Friday swelled by another 6,933, DeSantis gave no indication he plans to follow the lead of his counterparts, including governors in other Republican strongholds.
While many governors used Veterans Day as an opportunity to remind their constituents that many have been asked to do more than wear a mask to help their nation, DeSantis put a video on his website thanking soldiers for their service.
The only news conference DeSantis has held in the past 16 days was on the morning after Election Day to laud Florida voters for handing its 29 electoral votes to President Donald Trump.
Since then, nearly 49,000 additional state residents have been diagnosed with the highly contagious respiratory disease.
The state has averaged more than 5,000 new cases a day among its residents in November, far more than the 3,201 cases it tallied each day on average in October. Florida is now home to 870,552 confirmed cases, a jump of nearly 18% in the past 30 days.
Polk County, like many counties in the state, has mirrored those trends. The county has averaged 130 new cases a day in November, compared with 101 in October and 100 in September. Of concern is the rolling seven-day average which reached 150 Friday.
At the current pace, Polk is likely to tally at least 3,900 cases by the end of the month. That is more than it has logged in any other month except August (4,535) and July (8,664), during the summertime peak of the pandemic's first wave.
Overall, 24,941 people in the county have been diagnosed since the first COVID-19 cases was reported in Polk on March 17. With four more deaths reported Friday — all men, ages 45, 71, 77, 84 — fatalities stand at 647.
Other states cracking down
Facing the same increases, governors in other states have reinstituted restrictions on businesses and reinforced the need for people to wear masks and abide by social distancing rules.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who this week capped indoor gatherings at 25 people and limited indoor dining to 50%, famously told his constituents: “Just wear the damn masks.”
While cases in Maryland, like the rest of the nation, have soared in recent weeks, it has had fewer new cases per capita over the past week than Florida, according to a coronavirus tracker operated by the Harvard Global Health Institute.
Over the past seven days, Maryland has averaged 21.1 cases for every 100,000 residents compared with Florida’s average of 23.7 per 100,000.
New York, which has averaged an increase of 16.5 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past week, also limited public gatherings and ordered all bars, restaurants and gyms to close at 10 p.m.
Other states that have reinstituted restrictions in recent days include California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, North Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois.
Even Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to issue a statewide mask mandate, has said she is considering it.
If she follows through, Florida would be one of only 15 states that doesn’t require people to wear masks.
DeSantis said he would never again order a lockdown
In addition to refusing to order people to wear masks, DeSantis also took the teeth out of local mask mandates, such as the one in Lakeland and Winter Haven, by banning local officials from fining individuals for violating the rules. Polk County commissioners refused to institute the mandate.
Likewise, when DeSantis on Sept. 25 allowed bars, restaurants and other businesses to reopen and lifted capacity restrictions, he said he would never again order a lockdown and has prohibited local officials from instituting any restrictions.
He has said he doesn't believe restrictions on businesses slow the spread of the virus. Further, he said, people should have the ability to work and operate businesses.
Since DeSantis lifted the restrictions, all the key indicators for the virus have gotten worse.
The exception has been the number of people who have been reported dead from COVID-19. However, experts say, that could change.
On Friday, 73 new fatalities were reported, the same total as the day before. Those are among the highest number of deaths reported on a single day for the past two weeks. The state's overall death toll has increased to 17,659, of which 17,445 are Florida residents.
Total deaths attributed to COVID-19 amount to .08% of the state population, and one in 50 who are infected have died, a 2.00% death rate. The national death toll amounts to .07% of the population, with one in 44 infected dying, a 2.29% death rate.
Health experts said they expect fatalities to increase because of the recent spike in the number of people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.
For the first time since early September, more than 3,000 people are now hospitalized statewide.
On Friday, the number increased by 68 to 3,130 people hospitalized throughout the state, including 91 in Polk County.
In addition to more hospitalizations, both the state and county positivity rates are concerning. On Friday, 7.95% of those tested for the first time statewide learned they had the disease. In Polk, the rate was 5.02%. The rolling seven-day average for the state and Polk is 7.71% and 8.26%, respectively.
Global health experts said the rate, which indicates the prevalence of the virus, must consistently remain below 5.0% before any meaningful steps can be taken to control the spread of the disease.
The virus has infected over 53.1 million people and has killed more than 1.3 million worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center. Nationwide, more than 10.67 million people have been infected and more than 243,000 are dead.
Jane Musgrave can be reached at email@example.com.
By The Numbers
Polk total COVID-19 cases
NOV. TOTAL: 1,560 (130.0 avg. per day)
OCT. TOTAL: 3,139 (101.3 avg. per day)
SEPT. TOTAL: 3,007 (100.2 avg. per day)
AUG. TOTAL: 4,535 (146.3 avg. per day)
JULY TOTAL: 8,664 (279.5 avg. per day)
JUNE TOTAL: 3,008 (100.3 avg. per day)
LAST 7 DAYS TOTAL: 1,050 (150.0 avg. per day)
LAST 14 DAYS TOTAL: 1,811 (129.4 avg. per day)
NOV. 13 REPORT: 112 cases, 3 deaths
OVERALL TOTAL: 24,941
OVERALL DEATHS: 647
STATE TOTAL: 870,552
STATE DEATHS: 17,659 (17,445 state residents)
NOV. 13 REPORT: 6,933 cases, 73 deaths
Top 10 counties for cases
• 1. Miami-Dade-199,072
• 2. Broward-93,514
• 3. Palm Beach-57,361
• 4. Hillsborough-52,330
• 5. Orange-50,446
• 6. Duval-37,864
• 7. Pinellas-28,746
• 8. Lee-25,716
• 9. Polk-24,941
• 10. Collier-15,729
Source: Florida Department of Health
Top 10 states for cases
Through Nov. 12
• 1. Texas-1,024,073
• 2. California-1,004,116
• 3. Florida-870,552
• 4. New York-545,762
• 5. Illinois-536,542
• 6. Georgia-416,876
• 7. Wisconsin-309,572
• 8. North Carolina-303,454
• 9. Tennessee-296,725
• 10. Ohio-274,457
Source: Johns Hopkins University