Want to do something for your country on the Fourth? Wear a mask, cancel the block party and keep a safe distance from others if you hit the beach. As coronavirus cases surged in Florida and across the nation in recent weeks, President Donald Trump has presented few solutions, while Gov. Ron DeSantis has left many of the big decisions to cities and counties. It’s clear that average citizens and local governments must take the simple, sensible steps if Florida is to turn the corner.
The number of new virus cases has shot up 80 percent in the past two weeks, with 37 states reporting a surge in recent days and several including Florida hitting a partial pause on reopening. Florida has become a national hot spot, reporting record highs in new cases statewide, record highs in daily reported deaths and an increase in hospitalizations. Florida added more than 10,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, and also added 68 deaths, bringing the seven-day average to the highest it has been since May 9.
Florida has increased its testing capacity in large, urban communities, but the demand for tests has outstripped capacity. A glaring example: A major testing site at Tropicana Field was closed shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday when supplies for the day ran short. DeSantis has taken several helpful steps, including re-closing bars and extending a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. But the governor has resisted a statewide order mandating masks, citing the varying risks between urban and rural counties. And the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still provides only generic guidance about attending mass gatherings.
Mayors and county officials have largely filled this leadership void. But this freelance approach has created a hodgepodge of confusing local rules and rickety enforcement. Some counties have made matters worse by compounding the governor’s mixed messaging. Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group, for example, has made a mess of managing the Covid-19 outbreak, with suburban representatives on the board showing indifference to this contagion’s impact on densely-populated Tampa. This inter-agency group is wholly unsuited for managing a public health crisis and should be disbanded before it weakens local protections any further.
Unlike in some other public emergencies, ordinary residents and businesses have the ability to make a huge, positive difference. Local mask orders should be respected. Floridians should wear masks out of a sense of civic responsibility. And though it’s the Fourth of July, people should avoid big gatherings, large private indoor parties and other breeding grounds for transmitting the virus. That’s the only way Florida will sustain its reopening, reestablish normal out-of-state travel and get schools, offices and stores fully open again.
There is no better way to honor the nation’s independence holiday than to consider our fellow citizens. Every American has an opportunity and an obligation to keep people of all ages from becoming sick — and that’s especially true in hard-hit Florida.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news