The Washigtnon Post - 03.04.2020

(Joyce) #1

A6 eZ re the washington post.friday, april 3 , 2020


the coronavirus pandemic


home’ as a two- or a four-week
strategy, but this thing can go on
for months. We have to be think-
ing about that now.”
The governor’s stay-at-home
order still allows Floridians some
leeway to gather, even in some
instances where local officials
have previously cracked down. It
permits church services, for ex-
ample.
Just this week, officials in
Hillsborough County arrested
the pastor of a Ta mpa mega-
church after he held Sunday ser-
vices in defiance of county orders
to limit public gatherings, telling
congregants that he would close
the church only for the Rapture.
The state has faced criticism
for its uneven, patchwork em-
brace of social distancing and

other measures to slow the
spread of the virus, even as it
became clear that the outbreak
was deepening around the coun-
try.
Well into mid-March, huge
crowds flocked to theme parks.
Spring breakers crowded beach-
es, until local officials took it
upon themselves to shut down
parts of the coastline. Now, ques-
tions remain about what impact
those lost days might m ean for
Florida — and for the communi-
ties to which some tourists re-
turned.
As the spread of the coronavi-
rus began to accelerate in the
United States a month ago, Nich-
olas Hickman decided to take his
birthday celebration trip to Walt
Disney World, in part because the

state and the county had not
issued a stay-at-home order.
When his plane touched down in
Orlando, there had been no cases
reported in the county where the
Magic Kingdom is located.
“When we went, the primary
defense for the virus was just to
wash hands,” he said. He and his
friends ate at their hotel and
spent most of the trip smelling
like hand sanitizer. “If we were
told not to go to Disney, we
definitely would not have gone.”
A day after he returned home
to Ringgold, a north Georgia city
of fewer than 4,000 people near
the Te nnessee border, he learned
that Walt Disney World planned
to close its doors over coronavi-
rus fears.
Three days later, he fell ill:

head and muscle aches, dizziness
and a fever that shot up to 104
degrees. After two trips to hospi-
tals and a battery of tests to rule
out other infections, doctors re-
lented and tested him for covid-
19.
“They told me that they felt
like they were wasting a test,” he
said, “because they only had four
or five tests in the whole h ospital.
They k ind of diagnosed and treat-
ed me for bronchitis. They said
‘really we think you just have
bronchitis.’ ”
He self-quarantined, even
though it would be days before he
got test results confirming he had
covid-19. One of his biggest fears,
he said, was that he might spark
an outbreak in his city — one that
would start with his parents,
with whom he lives. As Hick-
man’s symptoms began to abate,
his parents felt unwell.
“They’ve been sick for the last
week. My mom has been tested
for it, but her results haven’t
come back,” Hickman said. “No
one will even test my d ad. They’re
like ‘your son’s got it and your
wife’s got it’ so it’s not even worth
[doing the test].’ ”
The family’s health worries
have ceded to financial worries.
“Now my p arents, they can’t go
to work. I can’t go to work. I
worked at a restaurant and now
all the restaurants are closed,” he
said. “I don’t even have a job
anymore. I have no money com-
ing in now. My dad, we don’t
know if he’s going to get paid.”
In Florida, state officials have
requested federal help to build
five mobile intensive care units
and to secure 5,000 ventilators,
5,000 additional hospital beds,
150,000 personal protective
equipment kits, millions more
face masks and a wave of other
supplies.

The state could also face addi-
tional burdens, including the ar-
rival of a stranded, coronavirus-
stricken cruise ship known as the
Zaandam, where four people
have died and nearly 200 have
reported flu-like symptoms. A
separate cruise ship also is head-
ed toward Florida with some
suspected covid-19 cases aboard.
In Miami, the mayor said he
believes that Florida has enough
beds and supplies to weather the
worst, but he has ongoing wor-
ries: a still-open international
airport that he said could be “a
receptacle” for future transmis-
sions; a police force where some
officers have already tested posi-
tive for covid-19; and front-line
workers who have been killed by
the virus.
In parts of Florida, especially
those where case counts have yet
to skyrocket, there is still hope
that it’s possible to stem the
coming tide.
“I think they’ve been doing a
good job with social distancing,”
Michael Lauzardo, deputy direc-
tor of the University of Florida’s
Emerging Pathogens Institute,
who has been helping oversee
testing in The Villages, said of the
senior citizens there. “It’s buying
us time.”
Whether that holds true in the
weeks ahead remains unclear, in
part because as in many parts of
the country, a shortage of tests
and supplies have prevented
health experts from getting a
clear picture of where and how
quickly the virus is spreading.
“ We’re flying blind in many
instances,” Lauzardo said.
Sumter County, where much of
The Villages is located, reported
66 cases of the coronavirus as of
Wednesday, and the number of
new cases has been growing
steadily, according to the state
health department.
Hanage, the Harvard epidemi-
ologist, worries that many areas
of the country no longer have
enough time to dodge the viral
freight train that is coming, in-
cluding the Sunshine State.
“When it comes down to it, the
future is not good anywhere,” he
said. “But Florida has been late
taking action that might help.
And I hope i t is spared the worse.”
cleve.wootson@washpost.com
brady.dennis@washpost.com

rozsa reported from Florida.
Christine loman contributed to this
report.

BY CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR.,
LORI ROZSA
AND BRADY DENNIS

ORLANDO — The Magic King-
dom is dark. The last of the
spring breakers have fled the
beaches. Calle Ocho, the vibrant
Miami street once bustling with
Cuban restaurants and Latin mu-
sic, is silent amid a nightly cur-
few. And in The Villages, a
sprawling senior-living commu-
nity near Ocala, town square
concerts have ceased and the
pools have closed.
Slowly and reluctantly over the
past month, as coronavirus infec-
tions grew from almost none to
nearly 8,000 and more than 125
residents have died, Florida has
sobered up. Under mounting
pressure, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)
this week ordered most Floridi-
ans to remain at home starting
Friday, a move that more than 30
U.S. states had already taken in
an effort to slow the spread of a
deadly viral infection with no
vaccine and no cure.
But as case counts climb in the
nation’s third most-populous
state — one home to bustling
international airports, swarms of
tourists and many vulnerable res-
idents — many are now left to
wait and wonder if the latest
restrictions came in time, and
what lies ahead for the Sunshine
State.
“I have zero doubt that there
are hundreds if not thousands of
cases we don’t know about,” Mi-
ami Mayor Francis Suarez said in
an interview.
Suarez was among the first
people in his city to be infected
with covid-19, the disease caused
by the coronavirus, and he
emerged from quarantine two
days before the rest of his state
was ordered to shelter in place.
“We’re not quite a hot spot, but
we have all the factors,” he said.
“We can quickly become one.”
Florida’s bout with the virus is
likely to peak in early May, when
an estimated 175 people will die
of covid-19 every day, according
to the University of Washington
Institute for Health Metrics and
Evaluation, which has provided a
much-cited model of the out-
break. In total, it predicts 6,
Sunshine State residents could
eventually die of the coronavirus.
“I would love it to be accurate
and I very much h ope it is, but we
must be prepared for the possi-
bility that is an optimistic scenar-
io,” William Hanage, an epidemi-
ologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan
School of Public Health, said of
that model.
Hanage said he is “very wor-
ried” about what awaits the state.
“My concern for Florida is
rooted in the fact it has a popula-
tion that skews old,” he said.
“There have been reasonably
large opportunities for super
spreading events. And I don’t
think there is very good evidence
that the transmission of covid-
is slowed in any meaningful way
by warmer temperatures.”
As recently as Tuesday, DeSan-
tis said he had no plans to issue a
statewide stay-at-home order, in
part because the White House
coronavirus task force had not
explicitly recommended it.
A day later, facing mounting
criticism as caseloads multiplied,
the governor ordered the state’s
nearly 21 million residents to stay
indoors for 30 days unless they
are pursuing essential services or
activities. His executive order
takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
“It makes sense to make this
move now,” DeSantis said at a
Wednesday afternoon news con-
ference, saying he had spoken
with President Trump about the
decision. “We don’t really know
how all these measures work,
because it’s never been tried on
American society before. But I
think we find ourselves in a
situation where we have a nation-
al pause, and we need to deal
with this front and center.”
Florida Agriculture Commis-
sioner Nikki Fried has been im-
ploring DeSantis to issue a state-
wide shelter-in-place order for
two weeks. Fried said Thursday
she’s glad the governor finally
agreed.
“The piecemeal approach
wasn’t working,” Fried said. “I’m
glad the governor finally came to
this realization and decision. I
hope it was quick enough.”
Palm Beach To wn Manager
Kirk Blouin said if the state had
been faster to clamp down, the
spread of the virus in Florida
might have been contained more
quickly.
“I wish it would have been
done a bit sooner,” Blouin said.
“Now my concern is, what’s the
longer term strategy going to be?
After a while, people without
jobs, without money, without the
basic survival needs, that’s going
to create a whole new set of
problems. We can do this ‘safe at


As cases surge in Florida, some fear action came too late


Photos by eve edelheit For the Washington Post
TOP: A family walks through a
closed park o n Cape Coral, Fla.,
on Sunday. Gov. Ron DeSantis
this week ordered most
Floridians to remain at home
starting Friday, but counties
and cities have already been
making decisions on their own
to close parks and beaches.
LEFT: Public beach access in
Fort Myers Beach, Fla., has
been closed since March 19.
BOTTOM: Two women walk in
a neighborhood in The Villages,
Fla., a retirement community
where 66 cases were reported
as of Wednesday.  For more,
visit wapo.st/VirusFlorida.
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