Covid-19 in CO and FL: A tale of the tape

The Bimini Bait Shack
The scene at the Bimini Bait Shack on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. The staff wore masks, at least.

I was reticent to travel to Florida from my adoptive home state of Colorado. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s laissez-faire lassitude toward the pandemic – to Floridians’ great detriment – a has been all too well-documented. But then I looked at the numbers.

They’re not bad. Let’s use yesterday – Saturday, Oct. 17 – as a baseline (I checked the numbers often before flying here; can’t remember which day).

Florida reported 4,044 cases on Oct. 17. Colorado reported 1,039 – close to the high-water mark for Colorado; far lower than the 15,394 Florida reported on July 12.

Adjusted for population, Colorado’s actually doing slightly worse, with about 4.3% more cases per capita. Florida’s first-time coronavirus test positivity was 4.68% on Oct. 17; Colorado’s was 5.03% — in Colorado’s case, roughly double what it was a month or so ago.

So good on Florida – for now, at least (more on this in a bit).

Neither Colorado nor Florida is doing particularly well, of course – unless you cherry pick comparators such as North Dakota, with a testing positivity rate of 10.37%. If North Dakota had Florida’s population, the state would have reported more than 20,000 cases on Oct. 17.

It’s safe to say that North Dakota will never have Florida’s population. Particularly not if the coronavirus kills everyone in North Dakota, which seems to be a possibility.

The now-old trope is that the United States accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population and 20% of the coronavirus deaths. For those who like to memorize statistics, note that that same ratio applies to the proportion of the U.S. population to our share of global carbon emissions.

Yeah, neither CO or FL deserve trophies for their Covid numbers. The entire country of Germany (83 million people) reported 7,830 new cases on Oct. 17. And Japan – a hop, a skip, and a Sea of Japan’s jump from China, reported 593 new cases from a population of 126 million that day.

But back to Florida and Colorado.

Lee County, in which I find myself, at the moment ranks seventh among Florida’s 67 counties in the number of deaths, with 252 Covid-19 fatalities. That’s 3.9% of the state’s total. Lee County comprises about 3.6% of the state’s population. Miami Dade County leads the way here with 834 deaths, or about 13% of the state total. That’s also in line with its percentage of the state’s population.

Denver, where I flew in from with a KN-95 mask on for like seven hours, is the Miami-Dade of Colorado, with 12.6% of the population. We, however, are punching above our weight in terms of Covid-19 deaths, with 20.2% of the total.

So it’s probably safer in Miami-Dade and, more generally, in Florida. Or so I thought until last night.

We did sunset cruise, checking out dolphins and then a rather amazing sunset from a husky pontoon boat. This ended at 7:30 p.m. I had scouted out a place to eat – the Bimini Bait Shack of Punta Rassa, Florida, just shy of the Sanibel Island causeway on the mainland. This was done based on the highly distinguishing criteria of a Google Maps search for “food.” The menu looked good. Couldn’t tell how big it was, though it looked big.

The Bimini Bait Shack is just huge. Seating capacity of 371, I think the sign on the inside of the door read. My family was reticent upon entry. I said, look, there’s a balcony, with doors to it wide open all the way around (this is a circular “bait shack” with a  diameter of a good 40 yards – really a bait mansion. We were being whisked back to a table before I could ask if there was anything available outside. To my relief, the table was right by a set of doors leading to the balcony. Ceiling fans outside and inside kept the air moving. Keeping the air moving (assuming fresh air is being introduced, either through an open window or HEPA-style filters, be they HVAC or stand-alone) is the most important step one can take to keep the coronavirus at bay. This virus spreads mainly in through airborne aerosols, it has become increasingly clear – hell, even the CDC has finally figured that out.

The Bimini Bait Shack is full of interesting stuff to look at. There was a his & her band up on the balcony, playing away (quite good, actually). I saw pretty much none of it because I was completely blown away by the fact that like 300 people were amassed, maybe three of them with masks.

This on the day Denver announced that people have to wear masks outside (unless they’re alone) and can’t gather in groups of more than five people.

But also on this day, Miami-Dade county announced that it could no longer enforce its local curfew and mask mandates because it contradicted DeSantis’s statewide opening of bars and restaurants to full capacity. The bars and clubs of Miami-Dade County will be open until the wee hours, coronavirus be damned.

Yes, these businesses have been reeling. This is why we need another round of economic stimulus from our great leaders in Washington D.C.. No, opening bars and restaurants up prematurely and spreading the virus won’t help the economy in the long-run.  

Not far from our table at the bait shack was one crowded with a group of eight. It was a large table; the sense of crowding resulted to a large degree from their body types, which ranged from obese to morbidly obese. All were over 60; some of them were well over 60. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it 65 and over.

As of Oct. 17, 53% of hospitalizations and a whopping 82% of deaths in Florida were among those ages 65 and over. That’s despite this cohort comprising just 15% of Florida’s 745,482 cases at that point. (While we’re comparing states: Colorado counts its cases differently – in 10-year increments starting at age zero. In Colorado, 17% of cases have been 60 and over, and that group has accounted for 88.5% of deaths.)

We ate fast. The food was dynamite (breaded grouper, scallops, shrimp and oysters), as was the local brew whose name I didn’t quite catch. We were out again in less than 45 minutes. So we’ll see.

My younger daughter was most alarmed. I explained that the windows and fans were a help, and I believed (and believe) that myself. Plus, even with such a large gathering, the odds of a positive case weren’t astronomical. As of late September, the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group estimated that about one in 850 people in Colorado were walking around with the Coronavirus. Probably it’s more like one in 425 now. Assume that’s about the same proportion as in Florida at the moment. That means in the bait shack, fewer than one person would have been positive, statistically speaking, at least.

But who knows?

One thing is certain, given what we know about this goddamn virus: Florida’s going to get worse while Colorado gets better (or stays statically not good, given the onset of the chilly season). Or at least that’ll be the case in Miami-Dade versus Denver counties. Because when you let people gather en masse sans masks, the virus goes bananas, and that’s what’s going to happen down here in the Sunshine State, I’m afraid. So I’m glad I had that breaded seafood on Oct. 17 and not on Nov. 17.

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