Beach parties led to ‘monstrous surge’
It was Fourth of July weekend in the US. Time to kick back. Time to party. A perfect storm for COVID-19.
A video taken at Diamond Lake in Michigan caught thousands of partygoers dancing with no social distancing in sight.
Diamond Lake in Cass County, Michigan just now:— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) July 4, 2020
A COVID-19 Petri dish...pic.twitter.com/rSzYHGTm0o
Most new cases in the US are among young adults. According to US health officials, they're letting down their hair. They're celebrating release from isolation by partying - hard.
Across the country, clubs, pubs, bars, dance halls, beaches and gyms have been reopening. And coastal states - such as Florida - are a traditional focus of the summer break.
Last month, Governor Ron DeSantis was adamant he would re-open Florida's tourist venues. He dismissed his state's steady rise in COVID-19 cases as being the result of increased testing.
On July 4, Florida registered an unenviable record: 11,458 new cases. Since the pandemic began, the state has suffered 3731 deaths.
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Governor DeSantis is urging his citizens to remain calm. He reassured Florida this week that its medical system could handle the increasing caseload. Nor was it necessary to shut clubs, bars, cafes and shops. July 4, he said, should be enjoyed.
"We're not going back, closing things," he told local media. "I mean, people going to business is not what's driving it. I think when you see the younger folks, I think a lot of it is just more social interactions and so that's natural."
INVINCIBILITY OF YOUTH
Across US COVID hot spots, the story is the same. Breakouts are centred on gyms, churches, restaurants - and bars and clubs. Most contracting the disease are less than 30 years of age.
"We know from the data that the cases are trending younger and we have a pretty good idea that it is related to the behaviour of young folks going out to bars and house parties," University of Florida epidemiology professor Cindy Prins told local media. "We tend to take more risks and live in the moment when we are younger. They may believe they are not at risk of being hospitalised, but they do pose a risk to others."
Florida's Governor says this is "natural"
"You can't control (them) - they're younger people," DeSantis said. "They're going to do what they're going to do."
Others states are more cautious. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards late last month delayed moves to re-open his state. On Friday, 1728 new cases were identified. Most of them were among people aged 18 and 29.
"While you may think you are invincible," Edwards declared, "you are not."
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Texas, which has a population roughly similar to that of Australia, late last month began to reimpose quarantine measures. Governor Greg Abbot ordered his bars and clubs closed less than a month after allowing them to re-open at 50 per cent capacity.
On Saturday, the Lone Star state detected 8258 new cases.
"At this time," Abbott said, "it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars."
The move, however, has not been popular. Texas bar owners have filed lawsuits accusing the Governor of violating the state's constitution.
Florida is among the top five US states showing a sharp upward spike in confirmed new COVID-19 cases.
"What we've seen particularly over the last week is a real explosion in new cases among our younger demographics," DeSantis admits.
That should ring alarm bells. The July 4 summer holiday features high on the calendars of America's youth. And Florida is one of its favourite party destinations.
But the state is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19: its population is, on average, older than the rest of the US. Mainly because of its popularity as a retirement location.
Admiral Dr Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health for the US Department of Health and Human Services, told the US House Select Committee on Coronavirus on Wednesday that the exponential growth in infections experienced by Florida, Texas, Arizona and California was "very concerning to all in public health".
The Fourth of July weekend presents a 'perfect storm' warned Boston Medical Centre infectious disease expert Dr Joshua Barocas: "The combination of travel, the combination of reopening - perhaps in some cases, too early - and the combination of people not necessarily following some of these preventive guidelines".
Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis is being accused by his political opponents of being too slow to close, and too fast to re-open, the state's economy. And controversy surrounds his handling of the crisis.
BREAKING 2 OF 3 I have multiple sources at DOH who have just told me they have been instructed this week to change the numbers and begin slowly deleting deaths and cases so it looks like Florida is improving next week in the leadup to July 4, like they've "made it over the hump."— Rebekah Jones aka #Insubordinate #scientist (@GeoRebekah) June 23, 2020
A former Florida Department of Health data staffer Dr Rebekah Jones alleged she had been fired in May after refusing to change state COVID-19 statistics. Last week, she again accused the Governor of attempted interference. (A spokesperson for Governor DeSantis has denied the allegation).
"I have multiple sources at DOH who have just told me they have been instructed this week to change the numbers and begin slowly deleting deaths and cases so it looks like Florida is improving next week in the lead-up to July 4, like they've 'made it over the hump'," she tweeted.
EXPLOSIVE JULY 4
US federal health officials planned a Fourth of July weekend testing "blitz" across Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
It's explicitly targeting younger people.
The object is to identify asymptomatic and mild cases - believed to be the primary drivers of the pandemic's resurgence.
"The strategy would be to surge test," Admiral Dr Giroir said. "You would do the number of tests you do in a month in just a few days to try to make sure we identify these asymptomatics and get a better handle on them."
Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis hasn't convinced all of his officials to cash-in on the holiday tourism boom. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered his beaches closed during the holiday weekend. The county's restaurants must close their doors - with any business owner who ignores the order facing 180 days in jail. It is also now mandatory for people to wear masks in public.
His county has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state but Florida's Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham is taking a different approach. "I think as we take a step back and look at what the circumstances were that created the current peak, it was actually the opening of the bars, not the opening of the beach," he told CNN.
"If you show up at the beach, you have children, it's packed, there's no place for you to go, I'd turn around and go home and have a barbecue."
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
Originally published as Beach parties led to 'monstrous surge'