- Florida currently has one of the lowest COVID-19 cases and death rates in the country, but experts say the numbers could be misleading.
- They note that the way Florida counts COVID-19 cases, as well as warmer weather and lower-density homes, are factors.
- They say it’s important to focus on what each state’s goals are in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida currently has one of the lowest per capita rates of COVID-19 cases of any state, despite a lax — and sometimes downright hostile — approach to implementing public health measures to contain the pandemic.
The state’s number of cases is about 50 per 100,000 people. Hawaii is close behind with about 51 cases per 100,000 people.
Comparing those two states sheds some light on how complicated this pandemic can be.
Florida has avoided issuing mask mandates and lockdowns, even as the state saw the largest increase in cases and deaths in the country in August.
Hawaii, meanwhile, has imposed strict restrictions and had ongoing mask mandates, even as the state’s vaccination rate climbed above 60 percent.
Vaccines don’t tell the whole story either.
About 80 percent of Hawaii’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, making it one of the top 5 states with the most vaccination rates. Florida is in the middle of the pack, with a 70 percent vaccination rate, according to the COVID-19 tracking website Covid Act Now.
So what gives?
First, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, as states may report their COVID-19 rates differently.
“What does that even mean when they say Florida has the lowest rate in the country?” dr. David Cutler, a primary care physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
“Because Florida only reports those positive cases among people who live in Florida full-time. So if your full-time residence is in Ohio, and you have an apartment in Miami Beach and you go there and you get COVID, then you’re not a Florida case. You’re not even a case in Ohio. You’re nothing, which is why I don’t have much influence on that number of cases in Florida.”
But even taking the case at face value, we probably shouldn’t weigh it very heavily, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist at Allergy & Asthma Network.
“I don’t think their total number of cases affects the current infection rate. That depends on the spread of disease, vaccinations and other factors,” Parikh told Healthline. “A few months ago there was a time when they had a very high infection rate, with ICUs and hospitals at capacity, while other parts of the country had low infection rates.”
One factor that may explain the current low number of cases is that COVID-19 has already affected many Floridians.
The state has seen more than 60,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the third highest in the nation behind Texas and California.
It also had the third-highest total number of COVID-19 cases — 3.6 million — again behind Texas and California.
Florida also ranks in the top 10 states in per capita death rates from COVID-19, with 281 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate is higher than in Texas and California.
On the other hand, the more restrictive Hawaii has the second lowest death rate in the country, at just 67 per 100,000 people, higher than Vermont alone.
“Florida’s warmer weather may help people spend more time outside to prevent the spread,” Parikh suggested. “In addition, Florida is less densely populated in certain areas, which also helps.”
But as with comparing California and Florida, which took different approaches to pandemic mitigation but had similar cases per capita at one point, there are probably too many variables to clearly identify why different approaches between these states have similarities. had results.
“If you manipulate just one variable, [per capita case rate] might tell you something, but where there are so many variables whether you mask or vaccinate or not, schools open or not, companies that need documentation of vaccines, or not – I think it’s very hard to say which of those variables impact,” Cutler said.
“And if you just identify them by state, it becomes purely political. It’s about where those people lived. And I’m not sure if that matters at all.”
One conclusion that can be drawn is that while there are many different public health approaches to managing a pandemic, one-size-fits-all may not be the ticket.
“Restrictions should not be applied uniformly as each region is different based on population density, vaccination coverage, etc.” Parikh said.
“If you want to measure success, you really have to ask yourself: what are we trying to achieve here?” he said. “Is it fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths? Less impact on the economy? What is the stat that matters? And that probably differs from country to country, from state to state, even from county to county.”
But that doesn’t mean “do nothing”.
“At the same time, hygiene procedures that we know work should be encouraged, such as masks, hand washing and distancing,” Parikh said. “It makes no sense for politicians to speak out against or have executive orders that could discourage the enforcement of these simple measures that go a long way.”