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Despite Distinction as New COVID Epicenter, Florida Forges On With Reopening Plans

America is no stranger to natural disasters. The U.S. leads the list in absolute tornado counts, with over 1,000 recorded each year. And as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes become more common, the importance of national response becomes more evident. But while Florida has certainly endured its share of catastrophic events, it’s clear that state and even federal government agencies have continued to put profit ahead of people. Now, the Sunshine State has been designated as the epicenter of our ongoing global health crisis — and yet, Florida continues to move ahead with reopening, despite the colossal risks.

Florida has continued to reach new heights with its confirmed daily COVID-19 case counts, reporting a record high of 15,300 on Saturday, July 11. Not only is that number higher than New York State’s peak from earlier in the pandemic, but it actually took the entire country almost 60 days to top that number; nationally, we reached 15,000 combined cases in the period from January 21 to March 20. From the start of the outbreak, it took the nation more than two months to exceed 15,000 new confirmed cases in a single day. But Florida has managed to reach that number with seemingly no problem at all.


It’s also worth noting that Florida, with a population of 21 million people, had just short of 13,500 total cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, July 12. But Australia, which has a population of 25 million, has only 9,980 cases of COVID-19 at that same point. South Korea, with its population of 51 million people, had only 13,479 — meaning although that country has more than double the people, its total number of cases is still less than Florida’s single-day case surge over the weekend.


The bad news doesn’t stop there. On Tuesday, the state reported its deadliest spike, with 132 deaths being reported as a result of the coronavirus. While it’s worth mentioning that some of those deaths likely occurred over the weekend, the surge isn’t merely due to a delay in reporting. Florida’s rolling seven-day average from COVID-19 deaths stands at 81, second only to Texas. Thus far, 4,409 confirmed coronavirus fatalities have happened here and the last two weeks have presented a troubling trend of both confirmed cases and known fatalities.


Not surprisingly, Florida — and specifically Miami — is now considered to be the epicenter of the pandemic. The state was one of the last to impose its stay-at-home order and Governor Ron DeSantis has been unmoving in his position to forge ahead with reopening the economy. DeSantis has insisted that no state-wide mask mandate would be imposed, leaving it up to citizens and individual businesses to make “the right decisions,” according to statements. And with Americans saving less than 5% of their income, it’s clear that many are willing to risk their health in order to return to work.


As such, the state continues to advance its reopening plans, with Walt Disney World finally reopening its castle gates after nearly four months of closure. But the reopening of the Magic Kingdom was juxtaposed against ongoing case spikes and insider footage of concerns (including a lack of social distancing and sanitization, as well as possible disease transmission from visitors experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19). Many are flocking to the theme park from out-of-state, as Florida attracts more than 100 million visitors each year, and some wonder whether Cinderella’s castle could quickly become known for more than Mickey Mouse.


Disney may not currently be the happiest place on earth, but government officials have stressed the importance of a return to normalcy. As such, many have pushed for the reopening of Florida’s schools to take place come fall. Senator Marco Rubio stressed “the costs of not reopening our schools are extraordinary” in a recent interview on CNBC, while Florida’s education commissioner recently ordered the state’s schools to reopen in August for in-person instruction at least five days a week. DeSantis has also likened the continued operation of essential businesses like grocery stores to educational facilities, saying: “I’m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.”


But of course, since customers aren’t spending seven hours a day in a hardware store or shopping center, the comparison isn’t really an apt one. Still, DeSantis has been unwavering in his views that schools must reopen in only a month’s time — despite the fact that the School Superintendents Association has estimated that providing the necessary protective measures in schools would cost roughly $1.8 million per school district. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers Union, has noted that federal emergency funding would need to be allocated in order to safely reopen the nation’s schools. But whether that will change anyone’s tune remains to be seen.


The state is clearly eager to regain some semblance of normalcy — a sentiment to which virtually all Americans can relate. That said, it looks like it may be a long and bumpy road ahead for the Sunshine State until COVID-19 can be kept under control.

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