Florida is still learning a hard COVID lesson | Editorial
Deaths increased again this winter.
File illustration of coronavirus.
File illustration of coronavirus. [ TNS ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 7

COVID-19 is killing about 63 Floridians a day. That’s nearly 23,000 more deaths if stretched out over the year. Of course, COVID rates fluctuate. The rate will likely drop over the coming weeks as the usual winter spike subsides. As for the rest of the year, it’s hard to say for sure. But the virus is still with us. Just ask the families of the 63 people who died today and the 63 who will die tomorrow and the day after that.

No doubt, we have moved on. The evening news nary mentions the virus anymore. Debates over how best to deploy public resources to combat COVID have long quieted. Few people wear masks in public places. For proof, just look around your local Publix or Home Depot. COVID has become part of the background scenery, vaguely there but hardly the main focus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Humans have an incredible — and enviable — capacity to collectively keep going no matter the adversity. Still, the COVID deaths pile up, slower now, but with relentless regularity.

When it comes to the bivalent booster, Floridians haven’t really moved on as much as we never got started. Fewer than 1 in 13 people aged 18 to 64 have received the booster. Only Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have lower rates, according to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the 65-and-up crowd, the booster number is better, but it’s still fewer than 1 in 3. That’s good for 47th out of the 50 states. It’s worth noting that about 95% of Florida’s recent COVID deaths are among the 65-and-up crowd. The booster provides solid — though not perfect — defense against dying from COVID. But most people in the most vulnerable age groups won’t get one. Humans — sadly — also have an incredible capacity to rationalize away risks.

It doesn’t help that Gov. Ron DeSantis, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and other state leaders have spread misinformation about the boosters. Rather than advocating for people to get them voluntarily, or at least remaining quiet, they claim the boosters don’t work, blatantly taking research findings out of context. They knowingly use the boosters as a political wedge, putting politics ahead of safety. It’s a tired and dangerous strategy. History will not look upon it fondly.

More than 85,000 Floridians have died so far from COVID. But the real point of this editorial is to highlight the recent numbers, to emphasize that people are still getting very sick and too many are still dying. Many of these COVID deaths were preventable. They did not have to happen, not now. We may have moved on from COVID, but COVID is still around. Just ask the families of the 63 people who died today and the 63 who will die tomorrow and the day after that.

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.