Florida is a destination state. Because the state has beautiful weather year-round and reaches down into the international crossroads of the Caribbean, you have people here from all around the world all the time.
When I mentioned to someone recently that the coronavirus is unlikely to spread as aggressively in Florida because of the heat here, a friend replied “Well, I just don’t see that based on the numbers.” Actually, it is very much reflected in the data.
Looking at aggregate numbers (as the corporate media idiotically encourages people to do) doesn’t tell you much of anything about how the illness spreads and why.
In Florida, three things contribute to the spread of the coronavirus: (1) travel, (2) direct contact with people who have traveled, and (3) a large population of elderly who live in gross long-term care facilities in places like West Palm Beach and Orlando.
In fact, I would say state and local governments’ poor regulation of long-term care facilities – which spread an incredible amount of illness during normal days, because you have economic untouchables caring for acutely medically vulnerable people – is one of the biggest contributors to the death toll that no one seemingly cares about. Rather than shutting down a $21 trillion economy, the government could have made a large dent in the health care burden by socializing long-term care facilities and ensuring that caretakers adhere to best practices. But they chose a short-term response with immense cost over a long-term solution that would create a permanent public burden. That’s what happens when you elect policymakers with incredibly short time horizons.
But back to travel. Florida currently has 11,111 coronavirus cases. It’s too early to tell, but it already looks like this number is starting to level off. It certainly is not growing exponentially, or at anywhere near the pace of the projections the bad models governments have been using. That effect cannot be due to DeSantis’ shutdown, which has only been in effect for 48 hours. More likely, it is due to the decision to close of the state to travel from coronavirus hotspots, which really came too late for reasonable people. This means the shutdown, which will likely cost Florida a million jobs, is totally unnecessary.
Think about that for a second. We currently have 191 deaths and 1,386 hospitalizations. But unemployment is going to go into double-digits over that.
Of those 11,111 cases, 10,760 were residents of Florida. While the state does not have data on around 7,000 of the cases, 1,020 cases were directly related to travel and 667 cases were related to travel and contact with a confirmed case. There are more cases related to travel than any other identified source.
Just from seeing what has happened in our community, I am sure most of this derives from a sudden influx of people (mostly Boomers, not “Spring Breakers”) who flew to Florida from up north when coronavirus lockdowns went into effect there. Much like how the Italians locking down Lombardy caused an immediate diaspora of infected people to the rest of the country.
The second complicating factor is population density. Looking at the number of infections by zip code tells you the virus is hardly spreading evenly around the state. Most of the epidemic is centered on Miami and Fort Lauderdale, which are two of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the country, thanks to being physically sandwiched between the Everglades and the ocean. They are pretty much the only cities in Florida that are not characterized by urban sprawl.
You have many counties in Florida that still have zero cases or cases in the low single digits. The virus is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on their population at all, but DeSantis destroyed their local economies just the same. They don’t have overwhelmed hospitals – in fact, DeSantis’ health care policies risk putting their regional hospitals out of business, which might dramatically reduce residents’ access to health care in the long run – but they will have a generation of blight and massive job losses just the same.
Are they pissed with DeSantis? You bet. And they should be. He has downright ruined their lives over nothing because he can’t tell the difference between Miami and Ocala. That’s the worst abuse of power possible in this country.
DeSantis’ response is typical of the lack of attention to detail that has characterized the response to the coronavirus across the country, however. There has been a scramble to do anything rather than anything intelligent.
Here is a table of all of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country. You will notice that they are the coronavirus hotspots right now.
Even among the most densely populated areas, there are important sources of differentiation. Los Angeles, which has more single-family residential homes and more people who own a car, has not had the drastic experience of New York City and its (still densely populated and still mostly vertical) surrounding areas. New York’s dependence on high-rise living and its subway system are the reasons something like pneumonia can downright break the city. The people there like a lifestyle that is fundamentally not healthy or sustainable.
The more you encourage people to live on top of each other and share physical resources, the more you introduce fragility into the system. This isn’t just true for illness either. It’s true for terrorism. It’s true for environmental health. It’s true for any force that can knock out a bunch of people in one blow. And it’s totally unnecessary in an era of technology.
But you shouldn’t penalize people who choose not to live in urban areas for the problems of urban areas, which is what Trump’s coronavirus team and governors have done. Someone in a rural area should not arbitrarily lose their job because of Miami’s party culture and snowbirds.
This is also one of the problems of having such an intellectually dishonest media machine. As the coronavirus has overwhelmed specific zip codes where the nexus of population density and a large fraction of potentially vulnerable people occurs, the media became obsessed with the outliers and wishing harm on people who are culturally other to them. And thus they rabidly push bad policy ideas. They have bullied policymakers into objectively destructive behavior that has economic consequences that are getting increasingly difficult to wrap one’s head around.