“So why was I once again sanguine about Florida? Because despite the surge in positive cases, the number of deaths remained extremely low, and I believed that deaths were the most concrete way to measure the pandemic’s toll. It’s not that hospitalization data isn’t important, but it’s hard to come by and often unreliable. Some people have reported long-lasting and debilitating symptoms, but we don’t know yet whether they are common or rare. All through June, the average number of daily Covid-19 deaths in Florida remained below 40. I thought then — and I think now — that that was remarkable.
In retrospect, it’s clear that DeSantis — as well as governors in Texas, Arizona, California and a lot of other states — reopened too early because they too were swayed by their low death rates and were eager to get their economies back on track. They didn’t anticipate how opening bars, in particular, would spread the virus. They weren’t willing to get tough on people who refused to wear masks. Perhaps most important, they didn’t pay enough attention to the reproduction rate — that is, the estimate of the number of people each Covid-positive person would infect. (In Florida, according to one model, it is 1.42)”
“When you look at the states that are facing surges right now — Florida, Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, and others(3)— they follow the same pattern. They saw very little of the virus when the Northeast was getting crushed. They let their guard down — even bragged about their success. Then, when it turned out that virus had simply taken its sweet time making its way south and west, it took them too long to awaken to the threat.
Although the positive case numbers are terrible across the board, the death rates are still low. Texas has 347,000 cases but only 4,100 deaths. Mississippi has 45,000 cases and 1,400 deaths. Arizona has 149,000 cases, and less than 3,000 deaths. Florida’s 380,000 positive cases had yielded 5,435 deaths as of Wednesday.
Whenever I bring this up, I’m reminded that deaths are a lagging indicator. But this surge began in early June; if the virus were acting the same way it did in the Northeast, the death rate would be far higher by now. I also realize that doctors know a lot more about how to treat Covid-19. But that can’t be the whole answer either. For reasons not yet understood, the virus simply isn’t killing as many people in these states as it did in New York and New Jersey in March and April. The one thing we can say with some certainty is that it’s not the governors’ doing.”