After 3 years, what COVID-19 pandemic lessons have Floridians learned for next time? | Editorial
We should remember the hard-earned lessons and view them through a pragmatic, not a political, lens.
The mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 are a medical marvel, delivered in record time.
The mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 are a medical marvel, delivered in record time. [ ED MURRAY | ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 17

Major crises can warp our sense of time and of ourselves. Only three years elapsed from the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to the Germans’ last-gasp Battle of the Bulge offensive in December 1944, and total Allied victory in World War II was only months away. A mere three years gone by and yet the world — and America’s place in it — had fundamentally and forever changed. To those who lived through it and for those who merely read about it in the history books, it’s hard to believe that so much happened in such a short time. A country, a people, now thought of itself differently.

So it is with the pandemic. It’s been three years since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Florida, though it feels like a lifetime. One hundred Floridians died of it in March 2020. Florida schools extended their spring break for an extra week, which became the rest of the school year as instruction turned toward remote schooling. People stayed home and worked from home, if they could.

No one knew for sure how COVID spread — was it by touch, by large droplets or by aerosols, tiny particles that hung in the air? People were dying, and people were scared. We didn’t know much; we didn’t even really know what we didn’t know. Vaccines, miracle that they were and delivered in record time, were months away. In the meantime, there was fear and dying. Even experts were perplexed and unsure about next steps.

Those 100 deaths in Florida in March 2020 have grown to 86,850 in March 2023. Although Floridians have largely moved on, 40 of us are still dying a day, on average. The most vulnerable remain at risk, and long COVID casts a long, unsure shadow. Across the United States, COVID has claimed 1,119,762 lives. To put that in context, that’s nearly four times the number of Americans who died in combat in World War II.

The passage of generations has given historians and regular folks the distance to see the effects of World War II clearly. We’ve settled on a commonly understood narrative. But much of that was agreed upon even as World War II was building toward its climax of unconditional Allied victory. Not so with the pandemic. Three years on, there is so much that is misunderstood, misremembered and misrepresented. This is why it’s so important to question what we have learned — and what we got wrong as well as right — to be prepared for next time. There will be a next time.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • The COVID-19 of March 2020 was not the same as later iterations, such as delta, omicron and others. Some variants were deadlier, others less so. Some were more transmissible or less so. To treat all variants of COVID the same is a mistake in both outlook and in health protocols.
  • Our susceptibility toward COVID is different, too. A massive vaccination campaign as well as the immunity gained by those who were infected changed how COVID moves through a population, and that requires different strategies to deal with it.
  • mRNA vaccines. They are a medical marvel. Do not let anyone claim that they had little effect. They prevented an untold but massive number of deaths and serious illnesses.
  • Masking. Someone who claims that masks “don’t work” needs to be specific about when, where, how and why. A cloth mask is different than an N-95 worn properly. A mask that isn’t needed in open air may be useful in a crowded space even now. Also, check the source. A recent controversy about a meta study done by Cochrane, a well-respected independent policy institution, had many critics concluding that masks don’t work. But they were seeing what they wished to see. As the editor in chief of the Cochrane Library put it: “Many commentators have claimed that a recently updated Cochrane review shows that ‘masks don’t work,’ which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation. The review examined whether interventions to promote mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses.” In other words, the study didn’t come to a conclusion on masks themselves.

In the past three years, we’ve all lived through a traumatic history that will stay with us as long as we live. Rather than simply forgetting this recent past and moving on, we should remember the hard-earned lessons and view them through a pragmatic, not a political, lens. What did we get right? And what would we do differently next time?

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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.