Here are some things we do know: Wearing a mask helps, exponentially. Maintaining a safe distance from anyone outside your immediate circle is critical. Limiting your time in environments outside your home is smart. And wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Most Floridians have figured out by now that the epidemiologists who are watching our goings-on with such interest don’t really care about us as individuals — any more than the wretched COVID-19 virus does.
As it becomes clear that America’s emergence from the strictest protective measures we would stand for has led to a predictable rise in reported cases, attempts to drill down into the numbers to some core of personal certainty remain futile. But the aggregated data on positive tests and hospitalizations, rough and raw as it may be, are yielding answers that public health scientists can use to determine whether the nation as a whole waited long enough before coming outside to play.
The early answer: Probably not.
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Where Florida is now, before the effects of recent social justice protests and other large gatherings can be fully known, is firmly on a path toward resurrecting an economy based on letting the good times roll. Gov. Ron DeSantis is on record as still committed to his open-with-an-asterisk policy. The question of whether his loosening of restrictions came too soon to save lives, or too late to save jobs, or split that difference as judiciously as possible, is something we will probably be parsing for years.
In the next few weeks, though, the evidence should solidify on how safe it is to go about our business. Because it takes about five days to develop symptoms after exposure to the virus — if they develop at all — and about another week for the affliction to become severe enough for an ER visit, we are close to getting some actionable information on community spread in Florida.
There is no doubt that the nationwide shutdown bought time. Fears about hospitals being tragically overwhelmed — as they were in New York, New Orleans and rural Georgia at the beginning of the nation’s outbreak — have been eased somewhat by diligent preparation.
And DeSantis has been true to his promise on vastly increased testing. Clarity on the overall accuracy of these tests still is missing when it comes to individual results. But again, the patterns they indicate are useful. Epidemiologists can estimate a fairly reliable infection rate by multiplying the number of known positive tests by seven; that in itself is progress.
But testing is only part of the solution that would allow us to live with this virus in our midst — since we clearly could not sequester ourselves long enough to kill it. The other necessary component is contact tracing, so that contagious individuals can be found and isolated. In Florida and elsewhere, we just haven’t built large enough tracing organizations to do this work.
So we in Florida will be playing coronavirus catch-up with the army we have. But here are some things we do know: Wearing a mask helps, exponentially. Maintaining a safe distance from anyone outside your immediate circle is critical. Limiting your time in environments outside your home is smart. And wash your hands thoroughly and often.
We can get through this together — if we all manage to be more careful and considerate than we have been up to now.