The virus is still here. So is the need to act responsibly | Editorial
Worrisome trends as the nation enters the fall and winter flu season.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis smiles next to Kimberly Guilfoyle as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis smiles next to Kimberly Guilfoyle as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 15, 2020

New coronavirus cases are surging across the country as the nation enters the perilous approach of the fall and winter flu season. This is not the time for America to drop its guard, despite the poor examples set by the president, Florida’s governor and the University of Florida football coach. Local governments should keep mask orders in place, and businesses, public institutions and residents need to do their part by acting responsibly.

New cases are trending upward in 36 states, with hospitalizations increasing to the point that Wisconsin is opening a field hospital this week at the state fairgrounds near Milwaukee. The daily average of new cases nationwide this week topped 50,000, an increase of 21 percent from the average two weeks earlier. A surge of cases in the upper Midwest is driving the higher numbers, though new clusters have broken out in the northeast. And while hospitalizations, at about 36,000, are down from the 50,000-plus figures in late July, the numbers are a big increase from 25,000 just three weeks ago.

The nation’s failure to contain the outbreak, or even to devise a national testing policy, has been glaringly evident for months. But public health officials are rightly concerned that America is entering the cool-weather period with too high a baseline of cases. Some increases were inevitable as states and communities reopened and as key sectors of the economy — from schools and colleges to hotels, airlines and restaurants — began welcoming more crowds. But reckless reopenings, wrong and mixed messages from top leaders and general COVID-fatigue all create another worrisome threat.

The Pinellas County School Board was right to take a firm stand Tuesday by voting unanimously to extend its mandatory mask policy over the objections of a handful of parents and grandparents who spoke at the meeting. Masks and physical distancing are two of the easiest and most effective ways to limit the spread of this highly-contagious virus. To that end, the University of Florida was right to suspend all football activities Tuesday after the program recorded a spike of positive tests. That decision came only days after Gators coach Dan Mullen drew nationwide backlash for saying the university should open Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to its full 88,000-plus capacity for Saturday’s scheduled game against defending national champion LSU. That game has now been postponed.

Florida is not experiencing the surge taking place across the country, but it has reported big one-day numbers in the past week. Florida added 2,883 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, raising the total number recorded in the state to 741,632. The Florida Department of Health also reported 66 deaths, bringing the toll to 15,788. Recent reports show that more people in Florida are reporting to emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms, and weekly case counts of new infections are rising among students and staff in the Tampa Bay area school systems.

As cooler weather in coming weeks drives more people to congregate inside, it’s essential that Americans follow simple safety practices — wear a mask in public; keep your distance; avoid large groups. Vaccines are in the works, but the nation still needs to buy time.

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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.


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