What Florida can teach New York about handling COVID

TAMPA — Florida became one of the first states to brave a resumption of post-lockdown life way back in May, when Gov. Ron DeSantis first OK’d reopening. Having lived through it, I can tell you first-hand: It was a rocky start. But for all the early scoffing and I-told-you-so’s, DeSantis’ strategy has proven fairly successful.

Despite the recent surge in COVID cases nationally and throughout the world, Florida remains open and working — and with steadily dropping death rates. New York’s leaders may want to pay attention.

In July, two months after reopening, new cases in Florida skyrocketed. Within a seven-day period, the state broke its own record three times for most new cases in a single day.

The second of those record-setting days was the day before Disney World was set to reopen. But that didn’t stop the “Happiest Place on Earth” — and Disney’s first day back marked yet another record, with over 15,000 new cases. That boosted no one’s confidence in DeSantis’ plan.

Still, at the end of September, the governor unexpectedly signed an executive order ending all state restrictions and reopening restaurants and bars at full capacity. Guess what: Death rates declined further.

Indeed, the tide seems to have turned. Now one month into Phase 3 of reopening, Florida’s daily death rate continues to drop, and hospitalizations remain stable.

Why have states like, say, New York, which has enforced strict, prolonged lockdown restrictions, suffered more than twice the number of deaths per capita as Florida? Apparently, lockdowns and broad restrictions aren’t the right elixir for COVID-19.

From early on, DeSantis prioritized the at-risk population, triggering much criticism at the time. He famously excused partying college students, focusing resources instead on protecting the elderly and letting the young and healthy resume their lives.

Gov. Cuomo took almost the exact opposite approach. He focused on removing freedoms for the entire population, and rather than devote special attention and resources to protecting the elderly, he actually put those at nursing homes at greater risk, by forcing those homes to accept COVID-positive patients.

Florida has had about a quarter of the nursing-home fatalities as New York, despite the state’s larger population. And when that July surge in Florida hit, it hit mostly young people, making it less deadly than in New York.

Today, Floridians are living in the new normal, which hasn’t turned out to be as apocalyptic as some feared. Thanks to the governor’s emergency order requiring public schools to offer in-person classes by Aug. 31, parents and stir-crazy kids are managing fine.

In South Florida, which is more of a hot spot than my stomping ground, Tampa, some local mask mandates remain in place. Miami still has some relatively strict rules, having seen particularly high numbers within the past few weeks.

But each county is allowed to regulate itself, and people, by and large, make their own decisions about how to proceed safely.

The elderly and immunodeficient still take precautions. But grocery stores no longer have arrows to direct traffic. People selectively shake hands. And, yes, I’ve recently been to Disney World!

For a state known for its “Florida Man” craziness, it may be surprising that so many here are following the CDC’s mask and social-distancing guidelines without state enforcement. But folks know what’s best for them and what’s necessary to resume everyday life.

New Yorkers have longed for that kind of freedom for months. They’re desperate to hang out with friends and family, see a show, have their kids in school and, yes, party — as we Floridians have. They want businesses back up, at least to levels that will help them survive.

Indeed, they want their whole economy running well. And it is, relatively speaking: In September, Florida’s unemployment rate, 7.6 percent, was below the nation’s 7.9 percent average; New York’s, meanwhile, was at 9.7, with more than 14 percent joblessness in the city. No wonder New Yorkers are heading south.

Cuomo’s ever-changing rules, his cluster strategies and ethnicity-based restrictions, have only made matters worse. New Yorkers should demand their gov take a cue from Florida. We haven’t handled everything perfectly, and the crisis is far from over. But we are a heck of a lot closer to a livable “normal” and a healthy economy than New York.

Ashley Allen is an intern with The Post

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