Florida taps into the top five states with the highest number of coronavirus cases at number five, with 146,333 confirmed cases and 3,446 COVID-19 deaths as of June 29. Though its numbers are just over half of California’s and nearly a third of New York’s, Florida faces a steep rise in cases over the past few weeks, which will only continue to rise as it continues with Phase 2 reopening and finds unrest and disagreement among citizens over the issue of wearing masks. In fact, Florida has experienced 6,093 new confirmed cases in just the 24-hour period between the morning of June 29 and 30, as well as 16 new deaths.
So, how’d we get here, to the point that the virus is decimating the Sunshine State while leaders continue to be divided on opinions about the use of PPE and n95 masks? Let’s take it back and trace the initial infection back in March up to the present day.
Unlike other states in our top 5, Florida was hit relatively late by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is more commonly known as COVID-19, or simply the coronavirus. In fact, Florida was the tenth state to have confirmed cases of COVID-19, first reporting the cases’s confirmation on March 1. On the 1st, two cases were confirmed, one in Manatee County and the other in Hillsborough County, the latter a woman who had recently traveled to and returned from Italy, which had only 566 confirmed cases at the time. Florida responded promptly, setting up a COVID-19 hotline just two days later on March 3, the day on which Florida confirmed its third case of the virus as well.
By March 6, there were 4 new confirmed cases, as well as 2 deaths recorded. Publix, a supermarket chain in Florida, began to impose a limit on the number of specific items, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, that could be bought by a single customer, as the viral mania that colored early March began to hit and doomsday prepping out of fear swept the nation.
Not all took the virus so seriously, though, as members of Florida’s House of Representatives announced on March 9 that five of its representatives had attended a conference with participants who had the virus. This event led Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency the very same day. Nine new cases were also announced on the 9th, bringing the state’s total count from 14 to 23.
In addition, it became known on the 9th that 2 crew members aboard the Princess Cruises ship Carribean Princess, which was scheduled to stop in Grand Cayman, had recently transferred to California’s Grand Princess, which was later revealed to have been a site of a community spread in California in early March. Another Princess Cruises ship, Regal Princess, also had 2 transfer crew members from Grand Princess, and both Florida ships were anchored and placed on a “no sail order.”
While new cases continued to be confirmed in countries across Florida and hospitals began to confirm that they were treating severe cases of the virus on the 10th, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $27 million in pandemic aid to Florida.
On the 13th, another death was confirmed, as well as that Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez had contracted the viral disease.
The next day, March 14, Orlando International Airport reported that one of its TSA agents had tested positive for the novel virus.
As deaths and confirmed cases continued to rise, Governor DeSantis of Florida ordered that bars, nightclubs, and gyms would all be temporarily shut down for a 30-day period, issuing the announcement on the 14th of March. Drive-thru testing began being made available in Central Florida. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami tested positive on the 18th, and began to quarantine in his apartment in Washington, D.C. By this same day, March 18, 314 cases of the virus had been confirmed, with 1000 test results still pending and 7 confirmed deaths. It was also disclosed that as many as 19 senior living facilities were possibly already infected.
Two days later, the number of cases soared from 314 on March 18 to 520 on the 20th, and by the 22nd the total number of cases had exceeded 1000. Governor DeSantis issued an executive order that restaurants offer take-out or delivery options only, preventing sit-down dining so as to slow the spread.
By the 27th, the number of identified cases had climbed to 2900, and 34 deaths were confirmed as being caused by SARS-CoV-2. The death toll was projected to double every 3 days.
This terrifying projection and the rise of cases pushed Governor DeSantis to allow retired healthcare and frontline workers to return to hospitals post-retirement due to the extreme shortage of medical supplies and personnel on the 30th. The same day, he issued an Executive Order for certain counties to shelter in residence, and the Department of Education officially banned online instruction until the 1st of May. It was also revealed that some of the spread was due to infected patients having willingly left isolation to interact with the public. In response, Seminole County required that anyone who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 stay at home until given medical clearance.
By the first of April, DeSantis expanded the stay-at-home order from miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties to a state-wide order.
Two weeks later, on April 17, the governor began to allow for the reopening of beaches, provided safety measures could be maintained.
On April 18, the Department of Education announced that schools would need to continue remote learning for the remainder of the semester, and would not be reopening until the fall at earliest.
On the 21st, Flagler County announced the reopening of its beaches for only fishing and exercise, but not for social activities. Brevard County lifted its sunbathing restriction, allowing sunbathers to gather at the beach.
By mid-May, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties began Phase 1 of reopening on the 18th. On the 22nd, the Miami City Commission voted to reopen all Miami beaches and hotels in June, aiming for June 1.
On June 1, the Florida Keys lifted the roadblock that prevented visitors from entering, reopening the coral cay archipelago. Two days later, Governor DeSantis announced the beginning of Phase 2 reopening, with exceptions for Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward Counties, which would need to submit their own plans for reopening. Phase 2 allowed for the reopening of bars at 50% capacity, so long as social distancing be maintained and adherence to additional sanitation standards. June 3 was the first day that over 1,000 new confirmed cases were tallied, and this trend continued throughout June, and continues to rise.
June 7 was the fifth sequential day that over 1000 new cases were recorded in a 24-hour time span, marking 63,938 total cases in Florida. June 10 marked a full week of 1000+ case increases each day. Nevertheless, counties pushed ahead with reopening plans. Miami Beach reopened the 10th while implementing social distancing guidelines.
Two days later, June 12 marked the state record for highest number of cases recorded in a single day, recording 1,902 new cases and bumping the total number of positive COVID-19 tests to well over 70,000. This record was broken again on June 13, reporting 2,581 new cases, and again on the 16th, which rang in with 2,700 confirmed new cases of the virus.
June 18-21 reported a rise by a factor of 3000 new cases per day each day. On the 23rd, Florida reported 103,503 total cases and 3,238 deaths. On the 26th, nearly 9,000 new cases were reported in a single day, doubling the report of the day before. On June 30, Florida reported 6,012 new cases in a single day, bringing the state’s total to 152,434 confirmed cases and 3,505 deaths. These figures represent only those cases and deaths that have been confirmed via positive testing. The continuous steep rise in cases almost certainly has to do with the expedited rate at which Florida has reopened public spaces and relaxed social distancing.
More importantly, though, it has to do with the fact that many Floridians are fighting to not have to wear masks, refusing to protect themselves and others from the spread.
Florida has experienced mass shortages of hospital equipment and PPE, as has most of the country. This has been felt far and wide, from the rise of the prices of hand sanitizer and toilet paper to the incredible deficit of masks for sale online. But the demand is not disproportionate to the need for PPE -- science indeed has shown that wearing even a cloth face covering works to
reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 greatly.
Both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have strongly urged people to use face coverings, as studies have shown that COVID-19 is primarily spread via the distribution of respiratory droplets via sneezes, coughs, laughing, speaking, and breathing. Donning a cloth mask, which is the minimum recommendation, prevents the wearer from spreading the germs carried from their mouth and nose during day-to-day goings on, as well as prevents them from touching their mouth and nose directly with their hands, which are constantly potentially picking up traces of the virus when out in public, especially since so many of those infected don’t even realize they carry the disease.
Even better, though, are N95 masks like those made by 3M, which are more effective at stopping the spread and acquiring of germs. N95 masks work better than regular cloth or surgical masks by doing more for the wearer. While other masks simply contain the droplets of the wearer, they do little to nothing to filter the particles in the air that the wearer is actually breathing. Therefore, they’re only really effective if everyone adheres strictly to mask mandates, which is currently a major point of contention among Floridians. Only personal care service providers, such as hair stylists and doctors, are required to wear masks at all. In high-concentration areas for COVID, like in Florida, while things are reopening and not everyone is practicing responsible social distancing or wearing appropriate and necessary PPE. The SARS-CoV-2 virus can live on surfaces for almost a full week at a time, and is highly contagious. Therefore, just one asymptomatic person slipping up and sneezing in a grocery store, or a careless infected person going to the beach, can put multiple people at risk, who then go on to put others at risk without even knowing it.
This is what makes N95 masks all the more important; rather than trapping in just the wearer’s germs, they filter the air the wearer breathes, keeping out 95% of particles. Therefore, if you’re wearing an N95 mask, you’re no longer relying on ever single individual member of the public to protect your health and safety -- you’re taking it into your own hands by protecting yourself.
The initial lack of availability of N95 masks led to the CDC’s original recommendation that non-healthcare workers wear only cloth masks, again optimistically relying on the idea that most people would adhere to stay-at-home orders, social distancing protocols, and all would wear masks for fear of contracting the disease. As pandemic hotspots like Florida continue reopening schemes, though, and these safety precautions begin to ease, increasing protection is possibly more important than ever, especially with the nation-wide spikes in cases we are currently experiencing. Clinical Supplies sells 3M N95 masks that are the most legitimate and easily available on the market, and still have stock left, while most retailers are either totally sold out or are profiting off fear and selling false products. Your safety should never be a sacrifice; the only certain choice in a time of nearly total and unprecedented uncertainty is to protect yourself and wear a reliable N95 mask that does more than simply prevent the spread of germs, but protects you from it.