For a moment in April, the Internet tried to cancel Florida. Photos showing crowds flocking to Jacksonville Beach amid the pandemic sent the hashtag #FloridaMorons trending on Twitter. The media spun scenes of ignorant spring breakers endangering themselves and others. Here was Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, joining neighboring state Georgia’s “experiment in human sacrifice,” as a writer for The Atlantic put it, by letting locals lift restrictions on their own.
Nearly a month later, Jacksonville’s Duval County reports new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the single digits. Rates of hospitalizations, cases and deaths remain steady across Florida. So far, fewer Floridians have died of the novel coronavirus than in New York’s nursing homes alone (2,259 compared with 5,800, at least). As Politico recently concluded, “Florida just doesn’t look nearly as bad as the national news media . . . have been predicting for about two months now.”
Florida’s approach — a decentralized health response with targeted lockdowns and quarantines reinforced by voluntary social distancing — appears to have worked.
Other populous states adopting this approach, such as Tennessee under Gov. Bill Lee, have seen similar success. The lesson: It is possible to keep a lid on the virus even while gradually reopening.
Florida is large and diverse. If Jacksonville and Tallahassee are the Deep South, the state’s I-4 corridor, running from Tampa through Orlando to Daytona Beach, is pure Middle America. South Florida is the polyglot “New Havana,” a bubbling melting pot between the Gulf and Gold Coasts. Unsurprisingly, DeSantis gave counties leeway in responding to Covid-19.
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