(Originally posted on Mises.org)
If one were to go only on what one reads or sees in the media, one would think it’s the spring of 2020 all over again. The headlines are filled with stories of overcrowded hospitals, overwhelmed medical personnel, and predictions of people dying in parking lots waiting for medical care. The news articles generally quote a staffer of some kind at various hospitals and then leave it at that.
It’s difficult to know what to make of these stories. After all, we heard very much the same thing during March, April, and May of 2020. Local governments were building makeshift hospitals in convention centers—yet they went unused. Memphis’s overflow hospital was closed down after an entire year of never housing a single patient. In late 2020, after months of media reports that New York hospitals were utterly overwhelmed, Andrew Cuomo announced New York hospitals “were never overwhelmed.” Colorado built a twenty-two hundred–patient overflow hospital. It was never used. Last spring, a $17 million overflow facility in Houston was dismantled without ever being used.
Now we’re being told that this time, they really mean it and hospitals are on the verge of overflowing.
Yet according to data from Johns Hopkins, most of these cases may be overstated. In Texas, for example, whose hospitals have been the subject of countless recent stories about overflowing ICUs, the state is a long way from reaching its earlier peaks of 2020. Moreover, Texas is now staffing fewer ICU beds overall. The story is the same in Georgia, that supposed home of an “experiment in human sacrifice,” where officials were among the first to end stay-at-home orders in 2020. Indeed, it’s clear most of the country—regardless of the state’s use of mask mandates or stay-at-home orders—remains well behind previous peak levels.
One outlier in terms of hospitalizations, however, is the state of Florida. Numbers in Florida do appear to be closer to previous peaks than in most other states, and ICU usage is now larger than what it was during the summer of 2020.
Why is this?
According to many reports from the corporate media, this must be because the state’s governor is Ron DeSantis. Because of his connection to the Trump movement, the media has predictably focused on DeSantis and his policies as alleged drivers of rising covid cases in Florida. The preponderance of media articles about Florida are careful to mention that the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has opposed mask mandates, vaccine passports, and stay-at-home orders.
The implication, of course, is that DeSantis’s opposition to these measures has somehow caused today’s rising number of hospitalizations.
This connection is so tenuous, however, that even Philip Bump at the Washington Post—who clearly is no fan of DeSantis—admits it’s unclear what’s behind Florida’s rising numbers. Florida may be an outlier in terms of new hospitalizations, but it’s not an outlier in terms of policy. States that have been relatively laissez-faire on covid, like Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, and Nebraska have not seen trends similar to Florida’s.
Moreover, Bump notes that Florida has higher vaccination rates than many states with both fewer hospitalizations and fewer new covid deaths. Florida isn’t an outlier in terms of vaccinations. Nearly 50 percent of the population is fully vaccinated in Florida—California is at 53 percent. Floridians are vaccinated at higher rates than is the case in Utah, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and South Dakota. Yet these other states all have fewer cases of new deaths and hospitalizations, per capita:
Something makes Florida exceptional here: These numbers are hazy enough (thanks to reporting periods and the lags in case and death counts) that one can certainly cobble together a case that there’s some other factor at play than indifference from state leadership. And, in fact, something else may be the problem. It’s hard to say.
Moreover, even with the current surge in hospitalization in Florida, the state may still never catch up with states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts in terms of total covid deaths per million. As of August 11, Florida is still twenty-sixth in the nation in terms of total deaths per million, at 1,870. New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts still top the list, with 3,003, 2,797, and 2,629 deaths per million, respectively. There is also evidence that the current increase in covid cases—and the “delta surge” in general—has already peaked.
So here we go again—the narrative doesn’t lend itself to easy explanations. States with long-lasting lockdowns, covid restrictions, and even mounting vaccine “incentives” have still been hit harder than more laissez-faire states in many cases, even after the virus has had eighteen months to spread well beyond the borders of the initial hot spots.
But for anyone who can remember the media narrative eighteen months ago, the current story will seem quite familiar. Hospitals are overflowing. But if we heed the diktats of the regime’s technocrats, we’re told, things will markedly improve. Those places that refuse to take orders from Washington will have many times more death, illness, and economic destruction. The facts never backed up this story in 2020. Twenty twenty-one isn’t shaping up to be much different. Author:
Ryan McMaken is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power&Market, but read article guidelines first.