There are a lot of opinions, ideologies, and philosophies about managing COVID-19.
It’s not surprising. A pandemic is a complex issue with life and death decisions around every corner. There are, however, some facts that everyone should agree on:
- People have to work and earn a salary.
- COVID-19 has killed 120,000 Americans in just a few months.
- Children need to go to school in a safe environment.
- COVID-19 is highly infectious.
- The economy has to restart.
- People’s health and well-being need to be protected.
More than one thing can be correct at the same time. Public health, the economy, unemployment, and education are all under siege. All of these priorities are important, and all will have to change in dramatic ways for any to survive.
A pandemic is a time when pragmatic, non-political, data-driven assessments need to be made by our leaders. Elected officials need to have the courage and convictions to make decisions in the best interests of their country, state, and communities, knowing not everyone will agree. It’s not a time to check which way the political winds are blowing.
It’s a time to lead.
In March, Mainstreet Daily News began its comprehensive COVID-19 coverage by calling for unity. We supported the county commissioner’s face mask order. We defended the Governor, as well as county and city commissions in an article by staff writer Suzette Cook entitled, “Elected officials are people too and essential personnel in this crisis.”
We called on leaders to put politics aside, work for the greater good, and pointed it out when you did. We’ve been behind you no matter your political stripes because that’s what good local journalism does in a crisis.
But when we think you are veering off course, we need to call for correction as well.
It’s becoming clear that the trajectory of COVID-19 has surged recently. According to the Florida Department of Health, this past week has seen multiple record-setting days in the number of new positive cases and other measurable statistics.
In the last five days, Florida has averaged 3,435.6 new cases per day, with a high of 4,049 reported on Saturday. The positive rate of those tested is at 10.9% after hovering around 3% just two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are averaging 166.2 per day, and fatalities are at 33.6.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis attributed the surge to increased testing statewide. Later, he pointed to testing in high-risk environments such as nursing homes, prisons, industrial worksites, and migrant farmworker communities. Then Friday, he said it was because younger adults are not following social distancing.
All of these are plausible theories, and they are certainly a factor. Still, no matter which people-groups are most to blame or most vulnerable at this moment in time, COVID-19 is spiking. If the coronavirus were in retreat, positive tests would be declining, even with increased testing. The percentage rate of infections would not be double digits. Hospitalizations would be lower. Death rates would be dropping.
It’s hard to blame the Governor for a phased approach that got the economy restarted, people back to work, and a plan to get children back to school. It would also be difficult to blame the Alachua County Board of Commissioners for following the state’s lead on those phases and taking the extra step of mandating face coverings.
But for both, it’s time to accept that COVID-19 is on an upward trend, and these leaders should act beyond their current executive and emergency orders.
The Florida Medical Association released a statement on Friday urging Floridians to use face coverings to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and called on local officials to adopt regulations requiring the use of masks in public places.
“In response to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, the Florida Medical Association (FMA), the state’s largest physician organization, encourages local officials to adopt regulations requiring individuals to wear face coverings in public places. Several large municipalities in Florida have already adopted mandatory mask use ordinances. The FMA applauds these local leaders who have put the health and safety of their citizens first and foremost.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance that masks are essential in preventing community spread of COVID-19, and the FMA unequivocally endorses this public health measure. Wearing a mask may save your life and the lives of others.
The science is clear. Asymptomatic infected individuals can release infectious aerosol particles while breathing and speaking. Not wearing a mask or face covering increases exposure, whereas universal masking greatly reduces the spread of viral particles. The message is simple: For the sake of your health and the health of everyone around you, Florida’s doctors want you to wear a mask.”
Alachua County should endorse the FMA statement and the additional measures called for by the Florida Department of Health on Saturday, which include:
- Face coverings in public places.
- Social distancing.
- Groups of no more than 50 people.
The county commission and the municipalities inside its borders should also get on the same page as it relates to face coverings. A “mandatory” order with no fines or penalties is no better than merely “recommending” face coverings. It’s like having a speed limit on a road, but no penalty for speeding.
And calling for an emergency meeting to defy the county over the word “mandatory”, only to “recommend” face coverings, is also a hollow, pointless, political effort to have it both ways.
Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Orange County have imposed mandated face masks in their municipalities. They have also stated they would impose fines if the community does not follow that mandate. Monroe County (which includes Key West) now makes facial coverings mandatory, and violators could face a $500 civil fine.
Alachua County should follow those municipalities, and put some teeth into its face-covering mandate, and include a civil fine if the order isn’t followed. City governments in Alachua County should also mirror the order, considering the escalation of the coronavirus. If your commission agrees with Governor DeSantis and recommends residents wear face coverings, why would you defy a county order that agrees with your recommendation?
Before D-Day, then General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a short speech in case the invasion of Normandy was unsuccessful.
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold, and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”
Eisenhower didn’t use political phrases, isolate statistics to create a reason for the retreat, or claim victory when the facts on the ground would have said otherwise.
He wrote, “any blame or fault … is mine alone.”
His short note reveals the enduring character he possessed as Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, and as President of the United States.
That example is not to lay blame on the Governor, the county commission, or any city commission, but it is an example of what leadership should look like during a pandemic.
There was always a possibility that COVID-19 might re-emerge after phases one and two eased certain restrictions, more and more businesses reopened, and people re-entered public places. Now is the time to accept that reality, make adjustments, and lead the state, county, and communities forward.
No one wants to go back to quarantine status.