Florida had a terrible summer in its fight against COVID-19. The state set several grim records, including recording nearly as many deaths from June to the end of September as in all of 2020, when vaccines weren't available. The change in seasons, however, has delivered a brighter outlook. No one should be bellowing, "The pandemic is over!" COVID-19 and its variants will likely be with us for a long time. But there are positive signs that the state is regaining its footing after the summer's staggering blow.
Let's start with the numbers. New COVID-19 cases in Florida have plummeted in recent weeks, from more than 22,000 cases a day in late August to less than 1,800 a day last week. Only a couple months ago, Florida was leading the country in new cases. Now the state has the lowest new case rate. That's right: Florida has gone from worst to best.
Based on a seven-day average, the state had just eight new daily cases for every 100,000 residents, edging out Hawaii which recorded an average of nine cases. (At the other end of the scale, Alaska recorded 94 cases per 100,000 residents.) COVID-19 tends to ebb and flow and Florida's numbers could spike again, but the turnaround in new cases is remarkable.
Daily COVID-19 deaths have also fallen in Florida, though not as steeply as new cases. The state's daily death rate over the last week ranked 17th-highest among the states. About 113 Floridians a day are dying from COVID-19, down from an average of more than 370 a couple months ago. That's still 113 deaths too many, but as we all know now, deaths tend to lag behind the trend in new cases. So with such a steep drop in cases, it's a good bet that deaths will continue to fall in coming weeks. That's a good reason for cautious optimism.
There are others, too. On the economic front, the state added an impressive 84,500 new jobs from August to September, six times more than the average monthly increase over the last decade. Locally, Tampa Bay's retail industry has rebounded; in September, foot traffic based on cellphone location data around shops and restaurants neared or exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels, reflecting a national trend. Also, Broadway touring shows returned to Tampa Bay for the first time since 2020, thanks to vaccine and mask requirements for the audience and the availability of onsite rapid COVID-19 testing.
None of this is to suggest it's time to let down our guard, especially with the upcoming holiday season, which often brings people together indoors where the virus spreads more easily. Vaccinations remain our best collective defense against serious illness or death. Masks and strategic social distancing still play an important supporting role in controlling the virus, as do the twin bulwarks of common sense and personal responsibility.
COVID-19 has waned even in Florida in recent weeks, and more hopeful economic signs have emerged. Those are two trends worth celebrating.
— Tampa Bay Times, Florida