There’s no end to the way the coronavirus pandemic has been ridiculed into less than it is by what the Flagler health department’s medical director calls “covid minimizers.” The minimizers–a more polite way to say deniers–want to tell us that the pandemic is exaggerated, that the death rate is not much different than that of the flu, that delaying school and business openings is irresponsible even as Florida set daily death records several times this month and the United States has been accumulating deaths at the rate of two 9/11’s a week for six months.
We keep hearing what a good position Flagler County is in. Local boosters think fighting covid-19 is a competition, with the counties with the fewer cases somehow holding a badge of honor that entitles them to be less anxious, less restrictive, which in this pandemic is the surest way to becoming more reckless. It’s why Sun Belt states led by Florida went from boasting about their low numbers in spring to becoming the epicenter of the pandemic after Memorial Day. We learned nothing. We’re still learning nothing if the focus is on getting the numbers down so we can relax again. Our own governor, who’s punted every decision imaginable, peddles the false notion that if you’re not in South Florida, you’re relatively fine. But relative to what?
Looking at certain numbers, Flagler County does seem like it’s in good shape. In total cases per 100,000 population, Flagler has the lowest number among 67 Florida counties: 937 as of today, since the beginning of the pandemic. Great, right? But the comparison reminds me of how the U.S. military rated certain Afghan or Iraqi provinces as so much safer, relative to others, even when you couldn’t step outside without getting your rear shot off. You can always make a place look good when you’re surrounded by hellholes. But you’re just fabricating a vacuum.
Look beyond the fabrication.
That Flagler figure of 937 cases per 100,000 looks good in comparison with other counties in Florida. (All my numbers are based on the New York Times’s tallies by country, state and counties.) But if Flagler were its own country, its rate would rank worse than that of all but 18 countries in the world right now. That means Flagler’s cumulative rate is worse than Spain’s, worse than Belgium’s, worse than Russia’s and Italy’s–worse than all those European countries that months ago mostly tamed the pandemic. It’d be worse than Iran’s and Mexico’s. It’s one notch above Saudi Arabia’s and two notches above Sweden’s, the country that decided to say the hell with restrictions and take the losses.
That’s the cumulative number. If we are to look at Flagler’s rate just for the last seven days, which is actually more telling about where we are as of today (Aug. 10), we’re at 122 cases per 100,000. You can make that number look fabulous in the Florida vacuum: it’s better than the state average of 213, though we’re no longer best in the state, with 11 counties getting a better rate, including Brevard, Seminole and St. Johns. But again, if we were our own country, we’d rank 10th worst in the world, one notch below Colombia (141) and one notch above the United States average of 115–a national average that has been dismal, if you’ve not been paying attention to Fox’s and the president’s Loony Tunes.
The only reason Flagler County looks good is because the rest of Florida is a morgue, though our governor can always apply the same demented calculus and say Florida’s nearly 8,300 dead still look fabulous compared to New York’s 33,000. Flagler could always point to the low number of deaths, but that’s not true anymore either, with deaths more than doubling to 13 in the last month, not counting two out-of-county residents who died here, not counting the untold number of deaths involving people who are not seeking care out of fear of going to the hospital, not counting yet more deaths that aren’t categorized as Covid-related because the testing was never done. More of those certainties are ahead.
Yet we’re planning to reopen schools on the reckless assumption that our measuring stick is where we stand in Florida rather than where we are in the absolute, as if Florida were its own island with its own covid rules and assumptions and delusions. Well, not as if: it very much is. As is Flagler.
We’re planning to reopen city hall, we’re holding plays and parties and looking for every possible way to relax as much as possible while ridiculing stricter measures, calling selfless caution irresponsible and short-changing our health departments of the money and armies they need to fight this pandemic seriously–the one thing that could take control of this pandemic and enable a serious reopening, because that choice between health and the economy has always been a false one. It’s health and the economy. Those new staffers the health department keeps telling you about are a fraction of what it would need to contact-trace and investigate properly, as they’ve done in Europe and East Asian countries where the problem is down to localized flare-ups, not widespread outbreaks. We don’t even have a plan to systematically test students and school staffers. We just don’t have a plan, not nationally, not statewide. We react locally, haphazardly and hopefully, and make up stories about our fabulous numbers, as long as we can rely on other Florida counties’ redder zones as the standard. La Florida as its own fig leaf.
Fabrications, alternative science and endless backpatting at our local government meetings: If this is Trump Country, as some of our more delusional local politico wannabes like to see it, we’re certainly living up to it. But why settle for 10th worst Covid rate in the world? Surely with a little more collective delusion we could be Number 1.