Column featured in SRQ Daily on 7-11-20:
Florida is now an epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States.
We can argue about whether this situation could have been avoided, but this will not help us move ahead.
Here is what we know:
New cases in Florida surpassed 5,000 per day on June 23 and have not been lower since. Hospitalizations have increased, but those resulting from the new infections on or after June 23 have barely begun to hit. Deaths will follow in another few weeks. We do not know what the rates will be, but we know that 56 hospitals in Florida are already out of ICU space; many others are close to capacity.
We know that you can have the virus and not know it. The longer you are near someone with the virus, the better your chances of becoming infected. Talking, singing, laughing or arguing with someone infected is worse than just sharing space. Indoors is worse than outdoors.
Wearing masks sharply decreases the chances of becoming infected. Someone who is infected and wears a mask is less likely to give the virus to someone else. And someone without the virus who wears a mask is less likely to get the virus. Maintaining a distance of more than six feet from someone with the virus also decreases your chances of getting the virus.
Florida’s healthcare system permitting, New College, like the other state universities, plans to welcome back students for the fall semester in a little more than a month.
The Florida Board of Governors for the State University System unanimously approved our plan. It involves masking (everyone wears them), strict social distancing, testing everyone on campus, a compressed academic calendar and more. To read the full plan, visit ncf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/New-College-Plan-to-Reopen.pdf.
Anne Fisher, Ph.D., the director of New College’s Counseling and Wellness Center, conducted extensive research to help with the plan.
“We’re a community at New College, and there are advantages to New College being a small campus,” Fisher says. “We are the only SUS institution testing 100 percent of our students and employees (which is something larger universities simply don’t have the capacity to do because there are just too many people).”
New College will adhere to requirements from the SUS, the Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If students have trouble with testing or resources or anything at all, we’re small enough that we can respond individually,” Fisher says. “I think we’re doing a number of things to mitigate our risk in ways our surrounding community is not. I hope we’ll be able to provide leadership to the community to show we’re being very responsible.”
I think Dr. Fisher is right.
Up until a few days ago, you could walk in Sarasota with little indication that we are in the midst of a dangerous pandemic: People close together in bars and bakeries—without masks. People in grocery stores—without masks. People crowded on beaches—without masks. Many people are still not wearing masks.
You can count on New College students to be wearing masks (even when protesting), not because they’re compliant, but because they understand that they have a responsibility to ensure that they do not infect others. We all have this responsibility. COVID-19 maims and it kills, and just because it doesn’t do so immediately doesn’t make it any less so.
And, who knows, a few more people wearing masks may tip the balance and make it socially unacceptable to be without one. This would be good for all of us. It would surely lead to a reduction in the appalling number of new cases we are seeing.