Think back to the long-ago days of March 2020, when Florida was feeling the first effects of the COVID pandemic. There was so much we didn’t know, and so much we would later vehemently disagree on, but at that moment, there was no dissent from one basic point: We must protect our older residents.
We tried. We shielded them from exposure to the coronavirus, and we put them first in line to receive the vaccine. We wore makeshift masks, social-distanced and learned hard lessons in how to treat patients. Even those who wrongly believed we should let the coronavirus run wild in those early days to build up some kind of herd immunity understood that we still must protect our most vulnerable. Indeed, Americans — and Floridians — over 65 died in disproportionate numbers.
During the pandemic, when Florida’s death rates looked worse than other states by any number of measures, the common refrain was: Yes, but Florida has a lot of older people. Exactly. Which is why we need to keep caring.
COVID has killed 82,875 people in Florida and about three-quarters of them were 65 or older. Thankfully, COVID is killing far fewer people than during the delta and omicron surges. But the virus is still on track to kill 150,000 to 175,000 U.S. residents this year, about the same number who die from accidents (170,000) or strokes (150,000), and more than die from Alzheimer’s (120,000) and far more than succumb to influenza (12,000 to 52,000). And older Americans — and Floridians — account for a higher percentage of the deaths than ever. Now, more than 9 in 10 COVID deaths in Florida occur among those 65 and older.
In our new live and let die world, younger and healthy people have the luxury of pretending COVID is behind us, the nasty downsides of long COVID notwithstanding. For them, life is back to normal. But COVID is still a real and present danger to large groups of Floridians. They have a right to be safe. As we go about our daily lives, we should think about how best to protect them — and if you’re 65 or older or immunocompromised, how to protect yourself.
During the pandemic, this Editorial Board has consistently counseled personal responsibility. Vaccines, including the bivalent version designed to combat two strains of coronavirus, are widely available but too seldom used. High-quality N95 masks are plentiful and, properly fitted, provide substantial protection. This is all still true.
No one will make you get a jab or don a mask now. But there are certainly still times when a mask makes sense: in crowds, when there is a surge of infections — or when you’re around people for whom COVID remains a clear and present danger. Personal responsibility includes looking out for those around you. If COVID is now mostly a killer of older Floridians, people should act accordingly. If you’re around people who are over 65, consider wearing a mask and otherwise being careful for them, if not for yourself.
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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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.