Florida bans on-site drinking at bars statewide as cases skyrocket

I don’t instantly grasp why bars would be barred from in-house service but not restaurants. It has to do with age, presumably. Florida’s cases of COVID-19 have been trending younger, proof that it’s young adults who have been most cavalier about social distancing since the state reopened. If you want to give that group a reason to stay home instead of socializing en masse, your next move is simple: Shut down bars — or at least force them to provide takeout service only, as is happening here. Like Greg Abbott in Texas, Ron DeSantis is grasping for the least intrusive means of tamping down the current outbreak. A total lockdown is unthinkable (for the moment) but doing nothing is unthinkable as well given the increasing scale of the outbreak in Florida. So he’s going to shut in-house service at bars and hope young adults take the hint to stop going out.


Except … won’t they just go to restaurants and drink there? And isn’t that actually more dangerous potentially since they’re likely to mix with an older cohort inside restaurants?

Gotta try something, though. If this doesn’t work, restaurants are surely next.

Why the drastic action today? It’s because the latest case count is especially gory.

A record week of surging coronavirus numbers was only heightened on Friday, as state health officials confirmed 8,942 cases, nearly doubling the previous record of cases reported in a single day, two days earlier.

Florida’s Department of Health on Friday morning confirmed the cases, bringing the state total to 122,960. The state also announced at least 137 new deaths, bringing the total of COVID-19 deaths north of 3,400.

Over the last seven days, Florida has reported 29,163 new cases. That’s nearly a quarter of all the confirmed cases in the state so far.

If you want to see what that looks like in graph form, feast your eyes. Not great. Florida’s rolling seven-day average of new cases is now around seven times higher than it was on May 4, when the state began reopening.

But there are caveats. Although hospitalizations and deaths are increasing, it’s at a much more modest rate than cases — 1.5 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. That’s what we’d expect from a raft of infections among younger adults. They get sick, but few of them get really sick and fewer still die. Behold:


More than half of the state’s cases, 54 percent, have come from people aged 44 or younger. But just 17 percent of hospitalizations have come from that group and a mere three percent of deaths. *If* infections could be limited to young(ish) adults, the pandemic could be managed. What DeSantis and his team are obviously worried about are secondary infections. Let the 21-year-olds keep partying at the bars and they’ll eventually bring the virus home to grandma.

There’s another caveat. Although cases in the state skyrocketed yesterday, testing skyrocketed too. There were more than 71,000 tests conducted in the past 24 hours, roughly double the number that had been conducted just two days before. That means, to some extent, Florida’s garish record day of new cases is a byproduct of more testing. Here’s what the positivity rate for new cases looks like over the last week:

Yesterday wasn’t the state’s best positivity rate recently but it wasn’t the worst either. On the other hand, two weeks ago Florida was recording rates consistently in the mid-single digits. Now they’re fairly consistently at 10 percent or better. Infections really are growing, at a rate faster than testing capacity is.

The phenomenon of outbreaks among younger adults isn’t specific to Florida, by the way. It’s showing up in Arizona and Texas too, which explains why Abbott issued his own order closing bars. These are surgical strikes aimed at a particular demographic, believing that if we can deter the young from socializing we can get a handle on the epidemic again. There are, however, certain cultural and political complications that are unique to Florida in taking a halting step towards locking down again. Here’s one flagged by Benjy Sarlin:


The NBA is set to play out the rest of its season in Orlando. NBA management is already “tense” about the rising cases in Florida. If they continue to climb and DeSantis ends up taking more aggressive measures to shut things down, the league might call off the whole season as too risky. Colleges and universities are already considering canceling college football, and not just in Florida.

There’s also the small matter of the RNC having only recently arranged to host Trump’s nomination speech in Jacksonville, a decision opposed by 58 percent of that city’s residents. The reason Trump moved his acceptance speech there from Charlotte in the first place was because he felt confident that DeSantis and the mayor wouldn’t be sticklers about social distancing. And of course Florida is home to Mar-a-Lago, which is now Trump’s official residence for voting purposes. If there’s any state in the country that the president won’t want to see reverting to lockdowns, it’s this one. Florida’s supposed to be a success story on reopening that proves his wisdom on getting back to business ASAP.

If DeSantis complicates that narrative by locking down, it’ll complicate his relationship with Trump and his potential presidential candidacy in 2024. Remember that DeSantis won the gubernatorial primary in Florida by positioning himself as the biggest Trump fan in the race. No doubt he’d like to duplicate that and earn the president’s favor four years from now in a national primary. But Trump holds grudges against politicians who disappoint him, as Jeff Sessions could tell us. So DeSantis really needs a good outcome on the outbreak right now, not just for obvious humane reasons but for the sake of his own career. Being forced to choose between staying open recklessly as the virus spreads and pissing off Trump royally by locking down shortly before the convention would be a nightmare for him.


Here’s Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints being asked a few days ago about the prospects for football this fall. Not encouraging.

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