With coronavirus cases increasing in Florida, the Sunshine State could use New York’s COVID-19 crisis as a cautionary tale on what delays could mean and why more testing is needed.
The United States now has 103,321 confirmed cases, surpassing China and Italy, and becoming number one in the world. According to the Florida Department of Health, the state is close to reaching the 5,000 cases mark (4,950 cases as of March 30) and there had been 60 deaths. While that’s a wide margin from New York’s figures, where more than 59,513 people have tested positive for the virus, slow measures and indecision could cost lives.
At the beginning of this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis required anyone on a flight from the New York, New Jersey or Connecticut area to self-isolate for 14 days, upon their arrival in Florida. DeSantis, a close ally of Donald Trump, first asked the president to limit flights to Florida for more than a week. Later, he criticized Trump’s proposal to lock down New York, because according to him it caused the exodus of many people to Florida.
“If you look at what happened in New York when they did the stay at home order, what did people do? Well, a lot of people fled the city. (…) We’re getting huge amounts of people flying in,” said the governor in a news conference.
But with or without the New Yorkers, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is expected to continue climbing as testing increases in South Florida and across the state.
In fact, the tests are the main reason New York has such an elevated number of cases. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the city is now testing up to 18,650 people for the coronavirus daily. That positions the Big Apple, as the world’s fourth-largest testing jurisdiction per capita, only after Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
So DeSantis has an example that testing can make a difference in knowing how quickly the virus is spreading and where the hot spots are. “If not many tests are available, they are reserved for the sickest people who most closely fit the classic clinical picture for COVID-19, so the positive rate will be higher. If more tests are available, they may be used for front line health workers with minimal symptoms, or other people who are less sick, so the rate is lower,” said Keith R. Jerome, head of virology for the University of Washington Medicine, to the Miami Herald.
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On Friday, Cuomo said that prediction models say New York will hit the highest point of the crisis even with the statewide shutdown and social distancing measures a week after Easter Sunday, around mid-April.
“We’re looking at about 21 days for a possible apex. So we want to do everything we can to be ready for what could hit us in 21 days. We are doing everything we can,” he said on his press daily briefing.
Cuomo is demanding help from the federal government to increase its hospital capacity by 50% more. Today he will open Javits Center as a temporary hospital and he is looking for places where he can build more. Also, he’s requiring 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators.
According to statistics by the Harvard Global Health Institute, 20% of the population of Miami will be infected in a period of 12 months, approximately 548,297. The study also estimates that 114,179 will be hospitalized, creating a 792-bed shortage.
Until now, DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide stay-at-home order like those imposed in cities like California, New York, and Illinois. He has said that they are ineffective and unnecessary in small and rural counties with fewer cases.
Local leaders disagree. Last week, Broward, the second-largest county in the state, started an order requiring residents to stay home. And cities in Miami-Dade County, like Miami Beach and Coral Gables, were taking similar measures to try to stop the spread of coronavirus cases.