In politics, being the center of attention may be good and may even get you elected to higher office. But how about being the “epicenter” of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic? Well, the state of Florida, led by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) who seems to have U.S. Presidential aspirations, may now have a new moniker besides the Sunshine State: the “epicenter” of the pandemic in the U.S.
That’s because Florida just set a new record for the pandemic. Not a good record, but a bad, bad one. Previously, their highest one-day total for reported new Covid-19 coronavirus cases was 19,100, established back in early January. However, on Friday, the state exceeded that total with 21,683 reported new cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since late June, the number of daily reported cases has been on a steady upward trend with the seven-day moving average going 1,694 per day on June 30 to 15,817 on July 30.
From July 23 to July 29, Florida had 110,477 reported new Covid-19 cases, which is about a 50% increase from the 73,196 seen in the week prior, based on the latest Weekly Situation Report from the Florida Department of Health. That same report indicated that only about 10 million Floridians have been fully vaccinated, which is a little less than half of the state population. That vaccination coverage is far from the levels needed to achieve enough herd immunity to break the transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus. As I wrote for Forbes on July 26, Florida was already accounting for about one out of every five new reported Covid-19 coronavirus infections across the entire U.S. With the more contagious Delta variant becoming the dominant strain of Covid-19 coronavirus in the U.S., it is important to determine where the virus is spreading most and try to prevent further spread at these locations.
So, where have you gone Delta variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus? Well, our nation turns its pandemic response eyes to you, Florida. Florid has become a “hot spot” for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) activity, perhaps the biggest hot spot right now, although some other states like Texas may be giving Florida a run for its spiky viruses too. That’s why some people have been using the phrase “epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S” to describe Florida, if you happen to be using the word “epicenter” to describe the location with the highest Covid-19 coronavirus activity.
Now, not everyone agrees with this use of the word “epicenter” for the pandemic. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “epicenter” as “the part of the earth’s surface directly above the focus of an earthquake,” reflecting the term’s origins in geological sciences and not epidemiology. Keep in mind though that earthquakes are not the same as an infectious disease epidemic or pandemic. Hiding under the table is not going to keep you from getting infected with the virus if you and others around you are not wearing face masks or not fully vaccinated.
Plus, the spread of an infectious disease is quite different from the spread of the effects of an earthquake. An earthquake typically occurs when there is a slip on a fault in the Earth’s crust. While an infectious disease outbreak may begin in one particular location, once it is widespread, there is no single source for new infections. Right now, new cases are being generated all over the U.S., not just in Florida. Every time you see a new case somewhere else in the U.S., you can’t necessarily shake your fist in the general direction of the state and say, “darn Florida.”
Nonetheless, the national response to the pandemic must account for where the Covid-19 coronavirus activity is highest and focus on controlling the spread of the virus in those locations. Otherwise, those “hot spots” may help fuel the emergence of other “hot spots” elsewhere. A “hot spot” is not the same as a Hot Pocket. It’s not going to stay self-contained for long.
The challenge is that Florida is not taking all the steps needed to control the spread of the virus. The Florida state government is still only doing weekly reporting of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, rather than daily, which is a bit like saying you want weekly reports of whether your pants are still on fire. The state government isn’t enforcing Covid-19 precautions such as social distancing and face mask wearing either. In fact, they are preventing local authorities and officials from implementing such precautions as this tweet from DeSantis shows:
Yep, as Nicolas Reimann reported for Forbes, DeSantis just signed an Executive Order preventing face mask requirements at schools, justifying it by saying that he protecting “parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks in schools.” Ummm, isn’t that kind of like saying that you want to protect people’s freedom to not follow traffic lights? Or sit in chairs during a fire? Or to pee whenever and wherever they want? Or to go nude and carry a ham sandwich around the office at work?
All of this failure to control the spread of the virus may lead to a collective WTF, as in “what the Florida” throughout the rest of the country. The greater problem is what happens in Florida won’t necessarily stay in Florida. Failure to control the SARS-CoV-2 in Florida will affect the rest of the U.S. The more a virus replicates in an area, the more the virus may spread to other areas and the greater the chance new more dangerous variants may emerge.
As James Oliphant, Nathan Layne, and Gabriella Borter reported for Reuters, DeSantis may be a possible alternative to former U.S. President and current Mar-A-Lago resident Donald Trump in the 2024 U.S. Presidential Elections. Hmmm, a great way to show that you can be the President is to help control what has been the country’s most urgent problem since early 2020: the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. As world leaders like New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern demonstrated in 2020, being able to control the SARS-CoV-2 can make you the center of attention, in a good way, and help you win an election. Doing the opposite can make you the epicenter of the Covid-19 coronavirus’s attention, and viruses can’t seem to vote.