The restaurant business is booming in Florida, propped up by “a huge spring break and tourist influx,” reports The Washington Post as prelude to yet another story about how Americans are still not eagerly lining up to take the worst jobs in America even though restaurant owners really, really would prefer they did. But something else is booming in Florida as well, due to that same “huge” spring break: The COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida is not just home to an explosion of new pandemic cases in the weeks following spring break, but now has “the most variant COVID-19 cases in the country,” reports ABC News. Nearly 12,000 tested COVID-19 cases involved variants, mostly of the United Kingdom and Brazilian varieties, as the Florida government’s continued indifference towards pandemic safety measures turns the state into a springtime stew of variants health experts worry could weaken vaccine protection and jumpstart the U.S. pandemic into another, even more lethal round.
Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, has already proclaimed the lifting of all local pandemic safety restrictions. If Floridians are going to protect themselves from this new surge of variant cases, they’re on their own. DeSantis has long had his eye on even higher office, and winning higher office in the Trumpified Republican Party means declaring victory loudly and often—even while undermining health officials’ efforts to bring that victory about.
To reiterate the point yet again, allowing the pandemic to last long enough to produce genetic variants of the virus is extraordinarily dangerous. The more virus exists, the more commonplace genetic mutations of the virus will become; the more mutations exist, the less likely it becomes that current vaccines, or any vaccines, can produce antibodies. Mutations may spread faster than the original virus could, as seems to be the case with the B.1.1.7 mutation, or may mutate into strains no more contagious but far more deadly. Every passing month in which the pandemic is not contain produces new variants. It takes only one to bring us back to day zero—or worse.
In Florida, Brazilian and UK strains predominate, but those and other strains are expected to accelerate further now that local pandemic measures have been shut down by the state. It’s not likely DeSantis, who has allied himself with the pandemic since its early days, will respond to the post-spring break surge by pulling back on business “reopenings.”
In the meantime, what can a Floridian do? Get vaccinated as soon as you can; continue to wear a mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated; practice social distancing even if there’s no public orders demanding it. We don’t know for sure that all current vaccines prevent all variant spread, but they do seem effective against the variants currently circulating. Reaching herd immunity is becoming more and more difficult as states allow pandemic-o-rama events and anti-science types furiously demand safety precautions not be followed because Freedoms, but there’s no reason to make yourself part of this alarming little experiment. It’s too much to ask that Republican governors make the unpopular decisions that might keep their own residents safe, so we’ll not bother asking.
Instead, Ron DeSantis and other ambitious governors might be swayed by a new lowest-tier goal: Endeavor to, at the least, not run your state so incompetently that a newly arisen COVID-19 variant gets named after your ineptitude. Having the national news report that the “DeSantis variant” is surging through America, in some hypothetical future newscast, would be quite the test of the theory that all publicity is good publicity. Could someone really run for the presidency vowing to stop a virus named after themselves?
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