A little after 11 a.m. each weekday, I receive an email alert from the Miami Herald. It contains the latest Covid-19 numbers for Florida. And every day, I wince a little when I see them.

Florida is now the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. Since July 10, the number of new positive cases has averaged more than 10,000 a day. As of Wednesday, the total number of cases was nearly 380,000 according to the state’s health department. The positivity rate — the percentage of those tested who turn out to be infected — is well above 18%. Hospitals in Miami-Dade County are approaching capacity. “The residents here are terrified and I’m terrified,” Donna Shalala, Miami’s Democratic congresswoman, said over the weekend. She called for Governor Ron DeSantis to impose a lockdown.

And who claimed that Florida was doing a good job containing the pandemic? Oh, right. It was me.

I’ve been living in Boca Raton with my family for a little more than a month now. We came here so my youngest son could attend a tennis camp, and that’s turned out to be a good call. We also thought we were going someplace where the coronavirus would be less of a threat than it had been in New York. That was not such a good call.

As regular readers know, I wrote not one but two columns praising Florida’s response to the pandemic. The first time, in mid-May, I made my case by comparing Florida’s results with those of states with much smaller populations such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Massachusetts alone had nearly twice as many positive cases and almost three times the number of Covid-related deaths. Indeed, with a population of more than 21 million, Florida had reported astonishingly few deaths — fewer than 2,000.

I gave DeSantis credit, noting that he was among the first governors to realize the importance of locking down nursing homes and insisting that staff and residents be tested regularly. He was also skeptical of the need for a statewide sheltering-in-place order. “There was really no observed experience of what the negative impacts would be,” he told the National Review.

I also believed that full-scale lockdowns cause more harm than good. I admired his willingness to buck the conventional wisdom. As a result, I was willing to overlook other things he was doing — or not doing — such as refusing to impose a statewide mask requirement. At least he wasn’t like Greg Abbott in Texas, overruling local communities wanting to issue mask mandates, I rationalized.

By the time I wrote my second Florida column, I had been living in Boca Raton for a little more than a week. Under pressure from all sides, DeSantis had grudgingly ordered a brief shutdown, but by the time my family and I arrived, we could eat in a restaurant, work out in a gym, have a drink in a bar and watch a film at a movie theater. Every one of these activities could spread the virus.

It was clear by then that the surge had begun; the daily positive cases had risen from about 2,500 to more than 5,000 in a week. I felt safe in my neighborhood; people were wearing masks and practicing social distancing. But in Miami, 45 minutes to the south, 20-somethings were said to have thrown all caution to the wind.

DeSantis attributed the growth of positive cases almost entirely to careless young adults. “I mean, they’re young people,” he said at a news conference. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

Watching DeSantis’s news conferences became one of my new Florida rituals. It was easy to see why so many people disliked him. His office had promised to post data on hospitalizations, but when reporters asked him a week later why it hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t give a straight answer. He would rattle off Covid-19 statistics but never acknowledge that they meant things were going south. He urged people to wear masks but often didn’t wear one himself. He lacked empathy. And he often treated the media as if they were children who didn’t understand the science the way he did.

So why was I once again sanguine about Florida? Because despite the surge in positive cases, the number of deaths remained extremely low, and I believed that deaths were the most concrete way to measure the pandemic’s toll. It’s not that hospitalization data isn’t important, but it’s hard to come by and often unreliable. Some people have reported long-lasting and debilitating symptoms, but we don’t know yet whether they are common or rare. All through June, the average number of daily Covid-19 deaths in Florida remained below 40. I thought then — and I think now — that that was remarkable.

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