- Florida is reporting a 13 percent increase this past week in new COVID-19 cases.
- Experts say the reopening order signed a few weeks ago by Florida’s governor is one of the reasons the state is heading in the wrong direction.
- They continue to urge Floridians to wear masks and avoid crowded gatherings.
Ten days after he was diagnosed with having contracted the coronavirus, President Donald Trump was back out on the campaign trail, holding a rally Monday evening in Sanford, Florida.
“I went through it, now they say I’m immune. I just feel so powerful. I’ll walk into that audience… I’ll kiss everyone in that audience,” he told the crowd on Monday.
He didn’t. But experts say they are worried less about whether he is contagious and more about the risk for the crowd gathered at the rally.
Thousands packed the tarmac at the Orlando Sanford International Airport. They had waited for hours with no physical distancing and few wearing masks.
Experts fear the rally could become another superspreader event.
In fact, because of the extent to which the state has taken its reopening, some experts are concerned that Florida is on its way to becoming a COVID-19 hot spot again.
Reuters reports that the Sunshine State recorded more than 18,000 new COVID-19 cases this past week, a 13 percent rise from the week before. The state has more than 730,000 cases since the pandemic began.
“What they’ve done is opened up everything as if nothing had ever happened there. You and I could be talking probably in about 8 to 10 weeks and I will likely bet that Florida will be a house on fire,” Osterholm added.
Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order allowing restaurants and bars to operate at 100 percent capacity.
He also suspended all fines and penalties for mask violations or any other pandemic-related mandates.
The Associated Press reports that in some of Florida’s trendy neighborhoods, people have been flocking to bars and restaurants. Many are defying mask mandates.
Loosening the restrictions shifted the safety burden to business owners, some of whom are worried about a resurgence.
“We’re generally concerned that we’re going to find ourselves on the other side of an inverted curve and erasing all the progress we’ve made,” Albert Garcia told the Associated Press.
Garcia is chairman of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents 50 blocks of restaurants and bars in Miami’s arts district.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez told reporters he was consulting with attorneys and staff on how local government could continue some pandemic enforcement without violating state rules.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion because people thought that was it — everything is open,” he said.
Florida’s 730,000 cases of COVID-19 works out to about 1 in 29 people in the state.
Nationally, it’s 1 in 42 people. Worldwide, it’s 1 in 207.
On Monday, the state reported 2,709 new cases of COVID-19. Over the past 2 weeks, Florida has averaged about 2,500 new cases per day.
The number of people currently hospitalized is also up slightly to 2,206.
“What I’m concerned with in states like Florida, who have widely opened, is what’s going to happen in November, based on what we’re seeing with hospitalization data right now,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, a microbiologist and science communication lead at the COVID Tracking Project.
“What’s concerning is the trend overall. So you start to see an increase in cases… then that turns into an increase in hospitalizations, which will eventually result in an increase in deaths,” Rivera told Healthline. “It’s one of those states we would keep our eye on.”
Doctors who are on the front lines say the number of patients they are seeing is still manageable.
“Just yesterday we saw over 2,500 cases in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Rajiv Bahl, an emergency medicine physician in Orlando, Florida.
“We are able to take care of it as a healthcare system a lot more appropriately today than we were back in March,” he told Healthline.
“We’re seeing already in our hospitals, again the admissions are going up,” Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert and professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, told CNN.
“We’re balancing those by being able to get people out of the hospital sooner than we were because we learned a lot. But it’s still happening,” she said.
Arizona, another Sunbelt state, has taken a different approach than Florida.
However, Florida’s governor hasn’t imposed a statewide mask mandate.
Marty says the president coming to Florida, holding a large rally, and still not wearing a mask sends the wrong signal.
“I’m deeply, deeply wounded to see this misdirection and misinformation,” she said. “Because these kinds of events will cause more and more cases.”
Osterholm predicts the efforts to “return to normalcy” have Florida going in the wrong direction.
“This is what’s so sad about this, we know these things are going to happen,” he told CNN. “It’s not like you can escape this virus. I find it illogical that people think that just because they get done with the virus, the virus is done with them. It’s not.”
“So watch Florida,” he added. “In 8 to 10 weeks, we will be wondering why they let this happen.”