Mr. Smith Goes to Florida

florida corona

Wednesday March 25: in which schadenfreude is wasted on infected spring breakers, Florida is rationing ammo, a $2 trillion stimulus bill is reached

I’m thinking about Florida today.  I don’t know if Florida really is the place where the glorious strangeness of America is distilled to its essence, or if the news just makes it seem that way, but last week the state was in the crosshairs of every news show, with drone shots of college kids cavorting on the beach and asserting they didn’t care if they get coronavirus (the kid who said that by the way is one Brady Sluder and he has apologized for talking like an anal wipe).

In related news the University of Tampa has issued a press release that five of its students returning from spring break at the beaches have now tested positive for COVID-19. Lots of people are mad at those kids but I am not – their failure to keep socially distant is a failure of leadership, not a personal failing. I feel for them; their come-to-Jesus moment of personal reckoning is still about 7-14 days ahead of them, when the news is full of suffering.

There are good things about Florida for sure; it has neverending sunshine and the longest continuous coast line in the contiguous US on which to enjoy it. People are always posting pictures of exotic beaches around the globe but honestly those in Florida compare to the best in the world, they are that beautiful.

I feel affection for Florida because it is where I first saw the ocean. After taking a 36 hour bus ride from central Illinois I arrived at a bus station in West Palm Beach well past sundown, but I still made the friend picking me up take us straight to the beach. I heard it first, the light cymbal crash of the waves; when I saw it, I sat down in the middle of a football field of sand, stunned at its vast reality.  At my insistence, we slept on the beach so I could see the ocean first thing when I woke.  That wasn’t the best idea – we were eaten alive by sand mites – but it remains one of the most memorable sunrises of my life. It’s funny, how small moments can render a place special to you for all time.

Florida is precious to everyone for its manatees, oranges, the Florida Keys and the Everglades; it’s personally precious to me and my husband for containing so many of his family – sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, plus his mom (who has one of the most interesting life stories you will ever hear) and her wonderful husband (smooches to you, B and P). While our governor here in California has ordered everyone inside and closed the parks, Florida’s governor has balked at issuing a state-wide stay at home order, which is how my beloved mother-in-law and her husband, who are both over 70 with fragile health, came to be traveling by plane to South Dakota, with one layover at DFW airport, just as New Yorkers and Californians were going to ground. On the same day they were flying, a college student flying home to Wichita Falls tested positive for COVID-19. Like my mom-in-law, the student  had a layover at DFW.

In related news, the CDC found coronavirus RNA on the surfaces throughout the Princess Cruise ship cabins 17 days after passengers disembarked.

So it is not totally surprising that a recent study on state-by-state response to the coronavirus ranks Florida at #36 in its attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is quite  worrisome, because Florida is uniquely positioned to be especially hard hit by the pandemic for a bunch of reasons, all with the irrefutable logic of math:

  1. The leisure and hospitality field accounts for about 14%, or 1.28 million, of non-agricultural jobs in the state.  Already, reemployment assistance claims have jumped from the <1,000 a day norm, to between 18,000 and 21,000 per day.
  2. Florida has the highest share of the population without health insurance coverage
  3. Like Italy relative to Europe, Florida has the highest proportion of elderly relative to the rest of the US. In Italy, a whole generation is dying off; will the virus have the same impact among Florida’s concentrated elderly?

Meanwhile, gun sales in Florida are booming such that  gun retailers are restricting the amount of ammunition people can buy. reports Florida sales are up 235%.

I’ve been less worried about Florida since I watched a video of two Florida politicians duking it out over the virus response at the local level. In Lake Worth Beach Mayor Pam Triolo of Lake Worth Beach got in a shouting match with Omari Hardy, one of the city’s commissioners. Mr. Hardy can be heard yelling “We cut off people’s utilities last week, what could have been their last check and we made them pay it to us to turn their utilities back on!”  She grumbles at his ‘disrespect’ and leaves the room with him bellowing after her in true Mr. Smith Goes To Washington Style outrage: “It is you who are being disrespectful of the the working people of this city!”

Later, Mr. Hardy later apologized for losing his cool, saying “I felt strongly that I needed to say the things I said, and the public needed to know how wrong this is. But I wish I hadn’t been yelling.”  I personally don’t mind yelling when it is being done on behalf of people without a voice. It turns out Commissioner Hardy is a former middle school civics teacher, which explains the “rats, I missed a teachable moment” tone of his apology, and is the kind of detail that makes me feel like we might get through this ok. But it might take more yelling by the Mr. Hardy’s of the world. I hope people start listening.

Good things: the Senate and House reached a $2 trillion stimulus deal

See past entries in Coronavirus Event

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