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  1. Opinion

To combat coronavirus, Florida needs stay-at-home orders now | Column

The window is closing quickly. We must enact stay-at-home orders before it’s too late, writes a St. Petersburg immunologist.
A cyclist rides on an empty downtown street in Kansas City, Mo., March 22, 2020. Officials in Missouri's largest cities are ordering a mandatory stay-at-home rule to residents starting next week in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. [CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP]

These are unprecedented and scary times. Each day we are faced with increasingly grim news about the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on our patients, hospitals, economy and schools. As life as we know it grinds to a halt, it is easy to feel as though we are helpless as the virus spreads throughout our country and community, but the simple truth is we are not. We can all do our part right now to flatten the curve and protect our health-care infrastructure and health-care workers. And it starts with staying at home.

To understand why isolating yourself is so important we must consider the numbers and the features of this disease. There are more than 41,500 cases of the coronavirus in the United States and 485 deaths nationwide. The virus has been spreading exponentially. As of today, the Florida Department of Health lists 1,171 COVID-19 cases with South Florida emerging as a hotspot for these infections -- accounting for almost half of the state’s total. In the Tampa Bay area, we have 73 COVID-19 cases in Hillsborough, 40 in Pinellas and 13 in Pasco counties. These numbers along with the fact that patients infected with the virus can be well and shedding virus for up to 14 days before any symptoms should be cause for great concern.

Dr. Mona V. Mangat

Cities in Washington state are already encountering the frightening scenario of running out of ventilators for sick patients. As a physician, I am terrified by the idea of rationing who gets a ventilator because of a scarcity of supply. We have a chance to change the trajectory of this pandemic, to flatten the curve, but the window is closing quickly. We must enact stay-at-home orders now before it’s too late. Here is a running list of doctors and health-care professionals who agree.

Filling a void in leadership from the federal government, local leaders have been leading the way as they fight to protect their communities. Many states, including California and New York, have already enacted stay-at-home orders to slow the spread, save lives and give our health-care workers a fighting shot. It’s time for Florida to follow suit. It’s time for Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a stay-at-home order to protect the people he serves. If this governor will not act, the responsibility will fall on our local leaders to take regional action to address this crisis before it’s too late. And I believe they are well-positioned to answer this call as many have already indicated an interest in taking action.

Currently, nearly 100 million Americans are under stay-at-home orders. While these orders can be challenging for some, they don’t have to be scary. Residents can continue to engage in essential business and vital activities can continue. This is a temporary measure that will require some sacrifice to save hundreds or thousands of lives.

Doctors take an oath to do no harm and to serve our patients -- no matter what. Risking our lives when there is a better way seems foolish. The clock is ticking to help manage the spread of this virus. Success will only be measured in how many fewer lives are lost. The time to act and put patients over politics is now.

Dr. Mona V. Mangat, a member and past board chair of Doctors for America, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg. She currently practices at Bay Area Allergy and Asthma.