Florida’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, despite recent criticism, highlights its unparalleled experience confronting emergencies, know-how forged by the yearly threat of hurricane-force winds, pounding rain and flooding.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, our state has been hit by approximately 120 hurricanes, far more than any other part of the country. In fact, about 40% of all U.S. hurricanes strike Florida. As a result, our people and leaders have developed a unique resilience and ability to prepare in the face of disaster.
Of course, today’s public health emergency differs from the state’s preparations for and recovery from tropical cyclones. COVID-19, a nearly invisible enemy, is much more difficult to predict. Nevertheless, the lessons learned from the constant threat of storms are evident today, two months before the start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
The state’s comprehensive, measured and proactive response in the face of adversity is commendable. Officials are simultaneously focused on addressing the outbreak’s impacts on public health and its economic fallout.
Although our hospitals are not yet near capacity, unlike those in places like New York, where officials waited for the demand for beds to surge, Florida is proactively building various field hospitals and mobile ICUs to ensure beds are available when needed. These temporary facilities, now being built in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Duval Counties, will likely focus on non-coronavirus patients, freeing up space in brick-and-mortar hospitals for those with COVID-19. If extra beds are needed, they will be there.
In cooperation with the Florida National Guard, health officials have set up mobile and drive-thru testing sites in major areas and potential hot-spots. Local governments have also implemented unique programs of their own. The City of Miami, for example, is offering free, at-home testing to its home-bound seniors. In addition, municipalities and counties across the state are enforcing closures, curfews, and stay-at-home orders as needed.
These are among a slew of measures taken to curb the virus’s spread, including prohibitions on gatherings of 10 or more people, the closure of bars and restaurants, and a tentative ban on visits to nursing homes.
Florida is also ahead of the curve in addressing the needs of its small businesses, the backbone of our economy, in these trying times. While many looked to the federal government to provide much-needed economic relief to companies, Florida’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program began offering short-term, interest-free loans to those impacted by COVID-19 a week before Washington acted. Furthermore, the Department of Economic Opportunity is conducting a survey of affected businesses in order to craft a continued, more comprehensive response to the virus’s consequences.
Although some have been quick to question Florida’s decisions amidst the current pandemic, no part of the country has successfully mitigated for and bounced back from more crises than the Sunshine State.
Year after year, Floridians face potential disaster with cool heads and effective planning. Their approach to the COVID-19 outbreak is no different.