Fresh Takes

Lessons from Florida and COVID-19: Protect the Elderly and Keep the World Turning

On March 16, The Wall Street Journal featured a series of interviews with American college students about their home states’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

The comment from one Florida student studying at Dartmouth really stood out for her praise of her home state’s careful balance of protecting the vulnerable while also safeguarding the wider community. The Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has been savagely attacked in the US media for his COVID-19 response, which hinged on carefully protecting the vulnerable while keeping the rest of the state open to protect jobs and small businesses. One year later, Florida offers an illuminating case study of what might have been here in Quebec and across Canada.

First, the results: Florida, famously, has one of the most elderly populations in the US. Nonetheless, Florida’s death rate was lower than every other large state but California (which famously has one of the youngest populations in the US).

Indeed, per capita, strictly locked-down New York suffered 68% more deaths than Florida, while similarly locked-down Massachusetts suffered 60% more, and New Jersey 78% more. All these states have younger populations than Florida, with about one-fifth fewer seniors as a percent of the population.

DeSantis didn’t wave a magic wand; he simply set up special nursing centres for elderly COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals. This dramatically reduced the spread in nursing homes, which was the overwhelming cause of the carnage in places like New York and Quebec.

As a result of DeSantis’s careful policy, not only did fewer die, but his instinct to keep the rest of the state open has led to far less collateral damage to families, to jobs, and to small businesses. Students have been back in school for six months now, and places of worship have been open since May 2020, still the early days of the crisis.

Florida restaurants have remained open, with tourists enjoying pina coladas oceanside to the great envy of residents of other states, and jobs have been widely protected. Despite the fact that Florida’s economy is tourist-dependent and thus was ground zero for COVID-19 job losses, the state today has unemployment of just 4.8%, compared to 8.8% in New York, 7.8% in Massachusetts, 7.9% in New Jersey, and 9.0% in California.

The recent spring break chaos in Miami Beach notwithstanding, Florida has shown what smart pandemic management looks like: Put everything into protecting those who are most vulnerable, rather than squandering those precious resources on knee-jerk over-reactions that distract and destroy.

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