Several important developments in Florida’s war against COVID-19 have made us much more sanguine about its prospects for controlling the Pandemic. Testing, travel restrictions, and social distancing have all improved.
Testing has improved — nearly doubling over the last 5 days from 41k to 77k cumulative tests. But Florida still lags other states such as New York, testing only 0.36% of Floridians while the latter has tested 1.22% of all New Yorkers. Florida’s testing protocol is still too strict — missing many potential carriers that do not show symptoms. Until testing becomes more widespread we still have to rely on general travel restrictions to contain the virus.
Travel restrictions have been tightened significantly with Governor DeSantis finally recognizing the severity of the problem and declaring a statewide stay-at-home policy starting today, April 3rd. The policy is somewhat leaky because it allows religious and golf club assemblages that could permit the virus to spread. But it is a significant improvement over the patchwork of county and city travel restrictions that existed before that led to ridiculous pictures of half-closed beaches because the beach was in two counties with different policies. This will also reduce the chance that Seminole County will reinfect Orange County even if the latter tamped down its infection. In addition, statewide shelter-in-place announcements by Georgia, Florida’s neighbor, should also help to lower the risk of reinfection. While the country lacks a nationwide lockdown policy, governors have now restricted travel for 90% of the US population. Even so, without a nationwide lockdown, we still have to rely on voluntary social distancing.
Individuals have improved social distancing as the number of COVID-19 skeptics dropped throughout March. While social distancing became 90% effective in New York City and San Francisco by March 16th, it did not take hold in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami until a full week later on March 23rd. The positive impact of social distancing has shown up in smart thermometer maps of U.S. where California has improved but Florida is still hot. 100% voluntary compliance is still hard to achieve especially with young adults, but many states are cracking down on violators with social shaming and fines.
Given all these positive developments, Florida’s prospects for controlling the COVID-19 Pandemic has improved. While we are still forecasting exponential growth of confirmed cases as testing catches up with reality and shelter-in-place kicks in over the next 2–3 weeks, cumulative case count, currently near 9k could show a marked slowing as it approaches 100k by the end of this month. At his point, daily case count will start to decline until the end of May when the infection might be considered under control. Hopefully, Florida hospitals can handle the increased caseload (currently at 1,167 hospitalizations out of 17k beds available) so that the death count could be held under 6k.