Florida and Covid

Florida and Covid. By Adam Creighton.

Arriving in Florida last week was like stepping back into 2019, a world without Covid-19 and the vast enforcement apparatus it has created. There, the pandemic ends at the airport, a beachhead of the Biden administra­tion’s rules requiring the social distancing and masking that have become par for the course in most developed countries.

A smattering of masks here and there — all optional — was the only sign of the pandemic in Miami, a sprawling coastal metropolis flanked by beaches and waterways. …

“We want to see your smiles; masks are optional” read a sign in my hotel. The bare faces of waitstaff at restaurants and cafes, where you enter without checking in or showing any vaccine certificate, were a pleasant shock. Gone was the ritual of masking between table and toilet in Washington, which racked up 400 days of mandatory masking this week, and the frustrating inability to read people’s facial expressions.

After a 30-day statewide lockdown in April last year, the sunshine state has had practically no restrictions, making it an extreme outlier in the US.

Florida, the third most populous state, matters not only because it’s the demographic future of the country, attracting more inward immigration than any other US state. It also has been a gigantic experiment, a counterfactual that provides ammunition for both sides of the charged debate about how to respond Covid-19. …

Covid deaths in Florida are 20% above the US average, but less than New York’s:

Deaths as % of population
Florida 0.2813
USA 0.2327
New York 0.2945
California 0.1844
Texas 0.2498
Australia 0.0071

Being part of the USA, which failed to secure its borders, Florida did not have the option of returning to zero covid (unlike Australia). Instead, it has had to live with covid for over 18 months now.

Marriages, funerals, parties and schooling have proceeded as normal in Florida for more than a year. The hospitals, while busier than usual, were never overwhelmed. Only 7 per cent of the total deaths were in people aged under 55. The state’s economy grew three times as fast as the rest of the US in the third quarter of the year — even during the peak of the fourth wave …

Without any mandates, more than 90 per cent of the state’s residents over 65 have been vaccinated and about 60 per cent of the whole population.

DeSantis, who has mounted a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s nationwide vaccine man­date, last week offered sacked police officers around the country $US5000 ($6700) to move to his state.

Federations can be messy but they work in the interests of ordinary people, providing a check on bad policies. People can move, and they have, with migration into Florida accelerating through the pandemic. …

During state elections in Virginia and New Jersey last week, Republicans, who promised to end forced masking for kids at school, made huge inroads into traditionally Democrat strongholds. Even the mayor-elect of New York, Democrat Eric Adams, has sniffed the political wind, promising to dump the city’s mask mandate for schools.

Florida provides insight into what living with covid will be like in Australia, now that it is opening up for international travel without quarantine and removing all restrictions.