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Florida has entered an unsettling stage of the COVID pandemic | Editorial
Thanks, in part, to only 1 in 3 Floridians being fully vaccinated.
Nurse practitioner Paula Joseph, of Tampa, draws a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine while providing vaccination shots in April.
Nurse practitioner Paula Joseph, of Tampa, draws a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine while providing vaccination shots in April. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 11
Updated May 11

There’s no denying that Florida’s COVID numbers are better compared to the winter. There’s also no denying that the virus is still sickening and killing too many people in the state. And, unfortunately, there are too many denialists at both ends of the coronavirus spectrum who won’t accept reality — the overwrought who still want strict lockdowns and insist everyone wear masks even when alone and outdoors versus the crowd who claims “the crisis is over, if it really was a crisis.” Both extremes damage the efforts to stamp out the virus. It’s up to the rational majority in the middle to remain clear-eyed about where we stand and how to ensure the numbers keep getting better.

Only four months ago, Florida was recording about 14,000 new COVID cases a day, and more than 150 deaths. Now, the state is closer to 4,000 new cases and 65 deaths. Progress, for sure. Still, those numbers are disappointingly high. Why disappointing? Because at least in part the drop came thanks to the rollout of the vaccine. And now, like most of the nation, Florida has reached the point where there are more available vaccinations than people eager to get vaccinated. The reluctance will make it harder to build a pharmacological wall between us and the virus.

And the virus is still out there; the variants are real. But only 1 in 3 Floridians are fully vaccinated. Less than half have had a single shot, including more than 700,000 residents who are at least 65 years old. In fact, all of our local counties lag the national average when it comes to vaccinated seniors.

The science suggests that even people who survive the virus remain vulnerable to getting it again or unknowingly spreading it. Many survivors will assume they have more immunity than they actually do. That leaves them vulnerable, and any large swath of vulnerable people leaves openings for the dispassionate virus to strike and spread, particularly the variants. Herd immunity works best when most of the herd gets vaccinated.

By now, most Floridians have heard of the “long haulers,” the people who survive the virus but can’t shake the effects — the brain fog, the heart issues, the trouble breathing. Now comes news that the virus can trigger diabetes — just in case we needed another incentive to get vaccinated. We take the jab, or we take our chances.

Florida has reached the in-between stage of the pandemic. The crisis is still real, but getting better. The numbers aren’t as bad, but they aren’t great. Many people are fully vaccinated, but even more aren’t. Fewer of us are on high alert anymore, so it’s easy to let down our collective defenses. And it’s worth remembering that relying on government to keep us safe is a high-risk strategy. Personal responsibility and making good individual choices still play a vital role in fighting the virus, which doesn’t care about our feelings, how tired we are or how much we crave getting back to “normal.”

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.