The New York Times’ big weekend piece on Florida, “I’d Much Rather Be in Florida,” provides us with yet another example of how difficult many people in the press are finding it to acknowledge that Florida got COVID-19 more right than almost every other state. Overall, the piece is positive — although it reads as if it was a lot more positive until an editor toned it down and inserted some barbs — and yet peppered throughout are reiterations of the same starting assumptions that have by now been disproven by events. The best example of this tendency is here:
Yet Florida’s death rate is no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists. Caseloads and hospitalizations across most of the state are down. The tens of thousands of people who died were in some ways the result of an unspoken grand bargain — the price paid for keeping as many people as possible employed, educated and, some Floridians would argue, sane.
This makes no sense. It cannot simultaneously be true that “the tens of thousands of people who died were in some ways the result of an unspoken grand bargain” and that Florida’s death rate is “no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions.” If it is true that Florida both refused to lock down harshly and kept as “many people as possible employed, educated and . . . sane” and has a death rate that is “no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists” — well, then there was neither a meaningful tradeoff nor a “grand bargain,” was there?
The piece notes that “much of the state has a boomtown feel”; that it has a “sizzling housing market”; that its “unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in California, 8.7 percent in New York and 6.9 percent in Texas”; and that “children have been in classrooms since the fall”; and that the restaurants and hotels in Miami are almost back to normal. It acknowledges that “when the state did not close beaches, there was national outrage, though the decision seems obvious in retrospect, given how much safer people are outside.” It features a glowing quotation from a Democrat, who says that she has “found herself unexpectedly defending Mr. DeSantis’s policies to her friends up north.” And it highlights that those policies were correct in ways that, say, New York’s were not: “Florida also did not allow hospitals to discharge coronavirus patients back into nursing homes, unlike New York, a policy that likely avoided more fatalities.” These are real achievements, and there is no need for them to be attenuated by talk of the same downsides that have been present everywhere else, as if Florida, unlike all the other states, could have got its death rate to zero had it done something different. Coronavirus has been a disaster and a challenge for everyone. Nobody has got it completely right, because it was not possible to get it completely right. Florida, though, has come closer than most. It should be possible for us to acknowledge this without non sequiturs.