If you want to avoid an­other virus shut­down, act like it

Orlando Sentinel - - Opinion -

Any­one re­mem­ber coro­n­avirus?

Af­ter dom­i­nat­ing our lives for months, it be­came yesterday’s news as so­cial protests erupted and peo­ple just wanted to get on with their lives.

We may have for­got­ten about coro­n­avirus, but coro­n­avirus hasn’t for­got­ten about us.

The in­fec­tion rate has ex­ploded in re­cent days. Hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rates are still ac­cept­able, so health of­fi­cials say there’s no rea­son to panic.

There is plenty of rea­son for con­cern, how­ever. If the in­fec­tion tra­jec­tory con­tin­ues ris­ing, “we’d have to do some­thing much more dras­tic,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings said.

Dras­tic, as is in re­viv­ing the stay-ath­ome or­ders.


The pub­lic should be ea­ger to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to avoid an­other shut­down. “Ev­ery­thing” means wear­ing masks and ob­serv­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines.

Con­sid­er­ing the astro­nom­i­cal toll the COVID-19 cri­sis has ex­acted, that seems a small price to pay. In­stead, far too many peo­ple have gone into Phase 4 mind­set.

Phase 1 was the ini­tial open­ing of non-es­sen­tial busi­nesses on May 4. Phase 2, which be­gan June 5, in­creased ca­pac­ity lim­its and opened bars and other en­ter­tain­ment venues. Phase 3 will even­tu­ally lift al­most all re­stric­tions.

There is no ac­tual Phase 4, but it es­sen­tially means no­body cares any­more.


It meant Jack­sonville and Gov. Ron De­San­tis throw­ing out the wel­come mat for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. Del­e­gates bet­ter steer clear of Jack­sonville Beach, where a num­ber of bars and eater­ies have closed again due to a coro­n­avirus flareup.

It meant thou­sands protest­ing the Ge­orge Floyd killing. So­cially, it was the right thing to do. Sci­en­tif­i­cally, it was risky.

A Phase 4 mind­set means ig­nor­ing one-way aisles in gro­cery stores. It means treat­ing masks as an ide­o­log­i­cal en­emy. It means bars pro­claim­ing “We’re back, baby!”

That was The Knight’s Pub’s so­cial me­dia mes­sage when it re­opened two weeks ago. It was time to party like it’s 2019, with free beer and no cover charge for women.

The hang­out near UCF was packed with peo­ple far more con­cerned about drink spe­cials than so­cial dis­tanc­ing. Now it’s closed again, shut down be­cause the owner learned a pa­tron had coro­n­avirus symp­toms.

Health of­fi­cials say 30 cases have been linked to one uniden­ti­fied busi­ness near UCF. Jay Zem­bower, Semi­nole County’s Com­mis­sion Chair­man, had a mes­sage for today’s youth.

“Look, I get it. You think you’re in­vin­ci­ble. That you’re not the pop­u­la­tion that are likely go­ing to die,” he said.

“But you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the rest of the pub­lic. So stop be­ing silly and wear a mask and take pre­cau­tions.” Be­ing silly has se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Di­ag­nosed cases in the state have sky­rock­eted from about 700 a day in early May to 2,738 on Tues­day. But death rates have de­clined and hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rates are sta­ble.

Or so we’re told.

Un­like many states, Florida lists only the to­tal num­ber of coro­n­avirus-re­lated hospi­tal ad­mis­sions. There is no day-today track­ing of COVID-19 pa­tients.

It’s up to hos­pi­tals to vol­un­teer that in­for­ma­tion and re­lay ca­pac­ity num­bers. Health of­fi­cials say more than

80% of gen­eral and ICU beds in Orange and Semi­nole coun­ties are cur­rently taken.

The sys­tem isn’t stressed, they say. De­San­tis said in April he ex­pected pos­i­tive cases to rise to 2,000 a day as the state re­opened. We’re zoom­ing past that, but De­San­tis re­it­er­ated his full­steam-ahead mes­sage this week.

“We’re not shut­ting down. We’re go­ing to go for­ward,” he said. “You have to have so­ci­ety func­tion.”

No doubt, Florida needs to get up and run­ning. The state just needs to do it right.

It would help if lead­ers set a bet­ter ex­am­ple. In an all-too-typ­i­cal scene, De­San­tis was the hon­orary starter at Sun­day’s NASCAR race in Homestead.

It was the first event with fans since March, though only 1,000 were al­lowed into a track that could hold 46,000. As a lone fan in a mask sat near the starter’s area, a mask-less De­San­tis waved the green flag.

Sure, wear­ing a mask in that set­ting would have been mostly sym­bolic. But he also didn’t wear one re­cently while grab­bing a burger with Vice Pres­i­dent Pence in Or­lando. If the gov­er­nor can’t be both­ered with a mask in­side or out­side, why should reg­u­lar cit­i­zens?

Too many of them al­ready think masks are part of a plot to take away their free­dom. Con­flict­ing early stud­ies about the ef­fec­tive­ness of masks fu­eled that ar­gu­ment.

But re­search has evolved since March. The sci­en­tific con­sen­sus is ex­po­sure to aerosol droplets in tight spa­ces are the main virus trans­mit­ters.

Even if you in­sist that wear­ing a mask and keep­ing 6 feet away from strangers won’t help, what would it hurt? The al­ter­na­tive could be an­other lock­down.

“We’re com­ing to our res­i­dents today and say­ing, we need all their help to avoid that be­com­ing a greater prob­a­bil­ity,” Dem­ings said Mon­day.

Re­open­ing was al­ways go­ing to be a bal­anc­ing act. It’s go­ing to re­quire pa­tience, co­op­er­a­tion and com­mon sense.

As much as we’d like for coro­n­avirus to be yesterday’s news, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. So if you want to be off to the races, tem­per the Phase 4 mind­set.

We’re look­ing at the guy wav­ing the green flag.

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