Less than two weeks ago, the number of new coronavirus cases reported in Florida hit a one-day peak, a key metric that has since declined by about 20 percent. The third-most-populous state in America has reported a cumulative total of about 21,000 cases of COVID-19, which means the Sunshine State’s per-capita infection rate is about 90 percent lower than New York’s. For some reason, however, the good news from Florida hasn’t been reported in the national media, nor has it gotten significant coverage in the local press.
Here are the crucial data points: On Friday, April 3, Florida reported 1,597 positive tests for coronavirus. That was more than double the 729 positive tests a week earlier on March 27. We might suspect that more widespread testing could have led to the spike on April 3, since the number of tests performed also increased (from about 7,000 daily to more than 11,000) during that one-week span. In the 10 days following that April 3 peak, however, the average daily number of tests reported remained around 11,000, but the number of new cases declined. For the five-day work week from Monday, April 6, through Friday, April 10 (weekend reporting is sometimes erratic), Florida reported a total of 5,491 new COVID-19 cases, an average of roughly 1,098 new cases daily. The highest single-day total last week (1,194 new cases on April 6) was still significantly below the April 3 peak. The number of new cases reported on Monday (971) was about 12 percent below last week’s average.
One doesn’t need an advanced degree in epidemiology, but just basic arithmetic, to see that the dreaded “surge” of coronavirus cases — which some credentialed experts had warned would overwhelm Florida’s hospital system — has not happened. In fact, fewer than 3,000 coronavirus patients have ever been hospitalized in Florida since the state reported its first two cases on March 1. Given the steady decline in new cases since April 3, there is no reason to expect a sudden upward spike in the future. To use the terminology employed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his daily coronavirus briefings, Florida has already passed the “apex” of its “curve.”
This encouraging development has made no headlines in Florida, however, where journalists have ignored the downward trend in new cases and instead have focused on the cumulative total of cases (which increases every day by a simple process of addition) and the daily death toll. The Miami Herald headline Tuesday was “Florida has deadliest day with 72 COVID-19 deaths, 34 in Miami-Dade, surpasses 21,500 cases,” while the Orlando Sentinel headline was “State adds 72 deaths, making it deadliest day of outbreak; 5 more deaths in Orange County.”
As anyone who has tracked the worldwide coronavirus pandemic knows, however, the daily death toll is a lagging indicator of the outbreak’s progress. In Italy, for example, the peak number of deaths (919) was March 27, six days after the daily number of new cases peaked at 6,557 on March 21. Furthermore, comparing Italy to the United States, the reported death rate in Italy (21,067 deaths and 162,488 cases, a 12.9 percent rate) is much higher than the rate here (26,047 deaths and 613,886 cases, or 4.2 percent). Such important facts, necessary to put the COVID-19 story into proper perspective, are missing from media coverage of the outbreak, both nationally and in local news outlets. While headlines in Florida were heralding the state’s “deadliest day” in the pandemic, coverage made no mention of the fact that, on a per-capita basis, Florida’s fatalities are a fraction of those in America’s hardest-hit states. According to CNN, Florida had three deaths per 100,000 population as of Tuesday, while the similar figure was 56 for New York, 32 for New Jersey, 22 for Louisiana, and 18 for Michigan.
Is it too much to expect news coverage to provide such perspective in the midst of a pandemic? Five states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Louisiana) had a combined 17,385 reported COVID-19 deaths as of Tuesday, according to CNN, and that total is 67 percent of all U.S. deaths from the virus. Similarly, Florida’s coronavirus outbreak is concentrated in three counties (Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach), which combined have 59 percent of the state’s reported cases. There are 17 counties in Florida that have fewer than 10 cases each, and another 14 counties have fewer than 50 cases each. Much of the state has scarcely been affected by the outbreak, yet all 21 million Florida residents remain under a statewide lockdown order. How much longer?
Strangely enough, despite clear evidence that Florida’s pandemic is past its peak, the same experts whose predictions have failed so often before (“Coronavirus: The Wrong Numbers,” The American Spectator, April 6) are forecasting the state’s outbreak will get worse. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) issued a new projection for Florida on Monday, as the Orlando Sentinel reported:
In the IHME model, the total deaths in the state could range from 1,250 to 13,759, with the median number of fatalities at 4,748 by June 25. The projections released Monday assume social distancing efforts continue through May. At present, the statewide stay-at-home order from Gov. Ron DeSantis only runs through April 30.
As recently as Friday, IHME had forecast Florida’s coronavirus outbreak would peak on April 26, but Monday’s forecast pushed this peak back to May 3, while increasing the predicted number of total deaths. This change in the IHME model’s projection seems illogical, given Florida’s declining trend in new cases since April 3. Even if this week produces a “plateau” in the pandemic (something Cuomo has noted in New York), the daily death toll in Florida seems unlikely to rise much beyond the level that made Tuesday the state’s “deadliest day.” The IHME’s revised Monday forecast, however, projected that 127 Floridians will die of coronavirus on May 7 — three weeks from now, and more than a month after the state’s number of new cases hit its daily peak.
Keep in mind that this projection assumes that Florida remains under its current lockdown until June! Will citizens of the Sunshine State trust this computer-modeled forecast more than they trust the actual numbers reported by Florida health officials? According to the state’s own data, Florida is already past the apex of its pandemic curve, and just two weeks remain before the governor’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire. The media have demonized DeSantis, a Republican ally of President Trump, for his reluctance to impose a statewide lockdown, and the IHME forecast of a May 7 “peak” would seem to require an extension of the lockdown. The day-by-day trend in case numbers, however, contradicts the IHME projection.
What will happen? Well, if Floridians keep social-distancing, and the number of new cases continues declining daily, not even the media’s hatred of DeSantis can conceal the gap between what the IHME predicts and the state’s own data. Hunker down and flatten that curve, Florida. I’ve got a couple of grandkids down there, and I’m planning to see them before June.