Florida’s Reopening Party Season Is Already a COVID-19 Fiasco
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MIAMI - Shortly after midnight Saturday, Suleiman Yousef's stomach growled: he wanted chicken wings.
But there was only one place in his neighborhood where the kitchen was open until 4am, the 36-year-old bail agent told The Daily Beast. After a quick phone call to the VIP manager of a strip club called Gold Rush Cabaret to find out the security precautions for COVID-19, Yousef walked the five blocks to the joint that was up and running two weeks ago thanks to the final phase of reopening under Republican governor Ron DeSantis.
"When you go up, make sure you have a mask, measure your temperature, and spray your hands down with some alcohol solution," said Yousef. "You could only take off your mask when you were eating."
Yousef told The Daily Beast that he had previously avoided going to important stores in the pandemic - even grocery stores. But in the early hours of Saturday morning, he entered the closed venue full of exotic dancers and bar staff, ordered his chicken wings, and watched the surreal scene for about an hour.
"There were probably around 100 people, 50 of them dancers," he said.
The club's precautions - including trying to distance themselves socially - made him feel that the risk of getting the coronavirus from the impulsive visit was minimal, said Yousef. When asked if he would support a patient who comes out of quarantine this way - even with distance and mask - Bernard Ashby, a Miami Beach-based vascular cardiologist, told The Daily Beast: "It's not worth it."
"There is an active community spread," added Ashby. "When you are young, you are old, it doesn't matter."
Indeed, conversations with experts and residents suggest that Florida's party and tourism-driven economy is fueling the flames of a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 infection, despite a variety of socially distancing practices. Indeed, the state has emerged as a new national location for a potentially exceptionally deadly summer as the number of positive cases in Florida has been catapulted in recent weeks and apparently new records have been set daily.
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"We haven't seen such a surge since we saw these epidemics in the Northeast," said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at the Philadelphia Children's Hospital, whose models have played a role in White House policy-making. “Temperature and humidity alone will not save you here. They need a lot more support from the community in terms of distance and hygiene. "
DeSantis began lifting a nationwide order to stay at home on May 4, and restrictions across Florida were lifted in the following days. Regions outside the hotspots such as Miami-Dade and Broward are in phase 2. Gyms, professional sports facilities and retail stores are working to full capacity, while bars and restaurants are 50% full.
For every company that tries to enforce strict measures, there are other institutions that violate the rules. The Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, had a personal backlash when he recently dined at Swan, a restaurant owned by Pharrell in the Miami Design District. Photos and videos from the evening, which were published on social media, showed many guests, including Suarez, without a mask, standing arm in arm in a crowded restaurant. Swan and two other restaurants were temporarily closed on Saturday for allegedly violating the Miami Dade restrictions. Suarez's spokesman told The Miami Herald that the mayor "was not part of a party. He was there for dinner. "
However, an analysis by the Florida Times Union found that since the reopening on May 4, no fines have been imposed and no enforcement action has been taken in 335 complaints about restaurants and bars that violated the governor's capacity and socially distant orders. Such violations can trigger a second - an offense that can result in up to 60 days in prison and a $ 500 fine.
Instead, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation "worked with licensees to inform them about executive orders and bring them in line," a spokeswoman for the agency told the newspaper.
"This half-hearted reopening does more harm than good," admitted Yousef as he thought back on his trip. “If a person has it and it spreads again, it ruins it for people who have to work for a living. Government officials find it easy to make decisions that affect everyone because they still receive their direct deposit every two weeks. "
Florida was one of more than a dozen states on Monday with upward trends in the daily number of cases of the virus, with more than 100,000 confirmed cumulative cases and 3,266 deaths. Miami-Dade County, which had the most infections on Monday, had 710 new cases overnight. Sunday was the 19th consecutive day that, according to The Tampa Bay Times, the total number of new positive test results for the novel coronavirus exceeded 1,000 across the state. In a spectacular 10-day route, the cases on the radar of the State Department of Health have more than doubled.
"The quarantine originally worked, but we're now seeing a significant increase," said Leonardo Alonso, a Jacksonville emergency doctor who treated COVID-19 patients. "I've seen more cases across all age groups." On Monday, the city's fire chief informed that 66 firefighters and 13 lifeguards were not working because they had been quarantined by the coronavirus after employees tested positive, the Times Union reported.
"The younger you are, the less likely you are to be hospitalized, but that doesn't guarantee that you won't," said Alonso. "They play the chances and the chances are in their favor, but there are young people who have died of it. It can be serious and long-term."
It speaks for how much the numbers have shifted that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo thought about quarantining travelers from Florida to New York on Thursday after DeSantis - just a few months earlier - New Yorkers who had traveled to Florida had asked for quarantine. Regarding Cuomo's heavily criticized response to nursing home outbreaks, DeSantis quipped on Saturday: "I would only ask if this is done. Please do not quarantine Floridians in New York nursing homes."
The Florida Department of Health said in a press release on Sunday that 17 residents in the Broward, Dade, Highlands, Indian River, Pinellas, and Seminole counties had died from the virus. More than half of COVID-19 deaths in Florida have been linked to long-term care facilities, and like the governor's office, the Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on Monday.
Projections by The PolicyLab last week showed that "Florida has everything it takes to get to the next big epicenter" and "the risk there is the worst there has ever been" since the pandemic started. "The southeastern counties of Miami and Florida are now joining the Tampa / Fort Myers and Orlando region to receive a fairly widespread broadcast event that we predict will continue across the state," the lab said in a blog post . On Monday, players on the Orlando Pride soccer team tested positive and sabotaged their participation in the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup. According to the Orlando Sentinel, some players have gone to a bar in the past few days.
"It's a real test for the state to recalibrate its response," Rubin said of the larger COVID-19 trend lines, as MLB leagues, which had to postpone the spring camp after several positive tests in the past week, restarted the NBA aspired to play in the state.
Florida has seen a "statistically significant" increase in pneumonia deaths. The CDC says it's probably COVID.
As troubling as it may be, Florida's state-level data has also been questioned in the past few months after a data researcher said she was released by the state. DeSantis, like other governors, has refused to mandate a nationwide mask, but has given local authorities permission to set their own guidelines and requirements for wearing masks. Late Monday, the mayors of 14 cities in Miami-Dade, including Suarez, announced that residents should now wear masks in public.
But the cases have not only increased - the demographics have also changed.
A month ago, researchers in Washington State found that half of the daily new infections occurred in people under the age of 40. This was a dramatic increase from eight weeks earlier, when older age groups made up more than two thirds of the patients who tested positive. after her report.
A few weeks later, Arizona and Florida reported similar shifts. DeSantis said the state's new infections have become younger and more people in their twenties and thirties have tested positive, the New York Times reported. This data is particularly worrying as schools, colleges and universities across the country hope to bring students back to campus in the fall.
"I get people who have to make contacts after the quarantine," said Alonso. "But I think everyone has to weigh that up, but keep in mind that we are a society and we have to think about possibly spreading it when it runs out."
Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of the University of South Florida Health and dean of the University's Morsani College of Medicine, said his message to young people who make contact without precaution was simple: "Stop."
"This was a really frightening and interesting month past," said Lockwood, noting that Tampas Hillsborough County was "a model of how to do it right" before "the rate of fall suddenly began to increase."
"Cases have increased six-fold while tests have doubled in the last three weeks and the average age of cases has dropped 25 percent. This sudden, unexpected increase is caused by younger people who do not complain about social distancing and face coverage "he said to Lockwood.
"We are seeing the floor drop in young people's infection," Lockwood told The Daily Beast. "We are concerned that these young people are starting to infect their parents and grandparents."
The situation in Florida is even more complicated: President Trump will give a national convention speech on August 27 in Jacksonville in an arena with 15,000 seats.
In a letter released earlier this month, 100 doctors said they were "concerned" with the Republican National Committee's decision to bring thousands of people into the city in a crowded public gathering if "Florida infections and deaths are on the increase."
In particular, doctors asked DeSantis to require participants to wear masks and social distance, to run a rapid test program prior to the Jacksonville event, and to set up screening and safety procedures at the facility.
But if the Tulsa Rally last weekend was an indication of this, participants in the Republican National Convention are unlikely to wear masks.
Likewise, the scene at a Trump property in the state on Monday was less than encouraging.
In the sprawling Trump National Doral Miami, signs throughout the building urged guests to wear face cover and practice social distancing. Security guards and attendants did, but golfers often didn't when they went to the marble-tiled lobby restaurant and bar for a drink.
That evening on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, the street cafes were moderately crowded and small groups of beachgoers crossed the sidewalks. Steven Taylor and two friends were leaning against the wall near a marble obelisk with a clock and a thermometer near 10th Street. The 25-year-old from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said the trio had arrived on Sunday for a five-day vacation.
"I enjoyed my time," he said to The Daily Beast. "Good mood, not bad energy and great scenery."
Taylor said he was vaguely aware of the increase in new coronavirus cases in Florida, but not the record numbers reported last week. He shook off all concerns.
"I have it in mind," he said. "At the moment the world is freaking out. But only old people and people with weak immune systems have died of it. If you eat fattening feed, don't exercise, and don't take care of your body, fighting it will be difficult. "
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