Without A Statewide Stay-At-Home Mandate, Florida Braces For COVID-19 Wave

Mar 26, 2020
Originally published on March 27, 2020 4:43 pm
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Florida currently ranks eighth in the nation when it comes to coronavirus cases. Among the top 10 states with the coronavirus, Florida is the only one that hasn't issued a statewide order requiring most people to stay in their homes. NPR's Greg Allen reports that that is worrying some public health experts.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis has resisted calls for a statewide order, calling it a blunt measure that would have a negative impact.

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RON DESANTIS: People are going to go out of business. People are going to lose their jobs. There's going to be upheavals in their lives, and that is something that we should not do flippantly.

ALLEN: He's more concerned about residents of New York City, who he says have been filling up flights to Florida since a stay-at-home mandate was issued there. He signed an order requiring all visitors from the New York City area to self-quarantine once they arrive in Florida.

DeSantis' refusal to impose a statewide stay-at-home order has drawn criticism from many, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. He weighed in yesterday, saying Florida hasn't done enough.

Samuel Scarpino's working with a group at Northeastern University that's modeling the pandemic.

SAMUEL SCARPINO: Looking at the confirmed cases from Florida, it's doubling every two to three days. The case counts very much paint a picture that the situation is deteriorating rapidly and that Florida needs to take decisive action immediately.

ALLEN: Those models are backed up by a new version of an old public health tool - the thermometer. Kinsa Health has pioneered the use of smart thermometers, which share information through the Internet. The company is gathering readings from nearly a million of its thermometers in use across the country. Kinsa CEO Inder Singh cautions that the data show fever spikes, not a definitive indication of COVID-19. But what he's seeing in Florida is startling.

INDER SINGH: It suggests that you're going to see a massive increase in case numbers in Florida, perhaps higher than in other places in the country.

ALLEN: In California, Singh says, the company saw fever spikes come down quickly after the state imposed strict social distancing requirements, including a stay-at-home order. Florida, he notes, has been slower to act.

SINGH: Making a decision like that is very difficult. But had they made that decision earlier, we probably wouldn't have seen fever clusters spike as fast. And that means two weeks, three weeks down the line, I think that you're going to see a massive rise in the number of COVID cases.

ALLEN: Another model, COVID Act Now, suggests with current measures in place, the outbreak in Florida may overwhelm hospital capacity in five weeks. One of those working on the model, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, says it shows the importance of taking early action.

JONATHAN KREISS-TOMKINS: There's a point where if you dither or dally or go halfway, you sort of pass the point of no return, where the exponential growths of the virus will completely swamp you.

ALLEN: In Florida, in the absence of a statewide mandate, cities and counties are now taking the lead, issuing their own orders for residents to remain in their homes.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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