COVID-19 in Florida – Report by Board Member Joe Gerstein

    I spent 81 of my 84 years in the Greater Boston area. One year was spent at Bronx Municipal Hospital, where I met my Australian wife on a psychiatric ward. Two years ago, we sold our home in Wayland and moved to Miami to be near one of our sons and his family. We thought that hurricanes were all that we would have to worry about.

    Since then, Zika and West Nile virus scares, with Dengue loose just south, in Monroe County, have awakened us to the dangers of the sub-tropics. I had to rip out all my carefully-nurtured bromeliads because they retain water in a cup-like recess, where mosquitos can breed. We were relieved to have missed the dramatic impact of COVID19 in the Boston area, but obviously, in the event, we did not elude it. We are now in the midst of the plague.

    The recent statistics are daunting in Miami-Dade county: 10,000 cases reported yesterday (July 19); 2200 cases in ICUs (which are running at 127% [!] of capacity); 500+ on ventilators. 100 deaths. Total cases in FL during the epidemic: 327,000.

    Every so often I get a twinge of guilt about not aiding my medical colleagues on the front lines. Then the reality that I am 84 and carrying an inactive medical license intrudes and interrupts my musings. My own doctor’s husband is 65 and heads a local Emergency Unit. He has been living in a hotel for 4 months!  At present, we are living with an 8 PM curfew and required “face-coverings. Although restaurants are open, with stringent rules, alcoholic drinks are not available unless food is ordered. So, bars, per se, are out. As is the situations in many other states, the Mayor of Miami (Democrat) and the Governor (Republican) are dueling daily.

    I am currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s tome A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. It was written over 20 years ago. I finally dug it out of a friend’s library. It is truly fascinating and engaging. Of course, it encompasses the onslaught of the Black Plague in Europe, which, in several waves, killed about 1/3 of the entire population. It completely devastated all social and economic activity. In ignorance of its nature or origin, it was blamed variously on a God’s vengeance for the sinfulness of humans or a conspiracy of the Jews, although Jews were obviously impacted with about the same death rate as Christians.

    The usual curative treatment advocated was burning the ghettos and killing the Jews therein or self-flagellation. Parades of flagellants coursed through Europe and eventually became a coercive government of their own. Finally, the Pope excoriated the flagellants and threatened excommunication, after which this hysteria remitted.

    The most memorable vignette regards the selectivity of the second wave, which came 2 years after the first. Unlike COVID19, which spreads easily to children, but has modest health impact on them, this second wave decimated young males at 3 times the rate of young females. Perhaps this was because the first wave of the plague had eliminated most of the adult susceptibles. Remember the biblical plague in Egypt that was reported to have carried off the firstborn sons of those who did not identify their doors with a splash of blood as a Jewish home?  Might have some relevance. The impact of this selectivity on society was that for a generation, females greatly outnumbered males in the population leading to many laments from unmarried women and a situation in which high-born, even aristocratic women, were often impelled or compelled to marry well-below their social rank. Likewise, the dearth of agricultural workers resulted in laws compelling workers to virtual peonage or serfdom and the “Bloody Assizes” as courts enforced these drastic new rules, forbidding departure without the farm-owner’s’ permission. 

    One of my sons is a journalist and currently resides in Shanghai, where his wife is employed by NYU/Shanghai. He informed me just today that this NYU Unit will be accepting 3,000 additional Chinese students who cannot or will not attend foreign universities.  In addition to constraints, travel and political, imposed on American universities, Chairman Xi has discouraged Chinese students from attending Australian universities, as retribution of Australia’s decision not to utilize Huawei 5G products.

    My son and his family returned urgently from the US to China in anticipation of a possible exclusion of foreigners in March, where they had fled from Japan, which they were visiting during the Chinese New Year.  Even at that time, there were no direct flights, so they had to fly to Narita in Japan, thence to Seoul and finally to Shanghai. Indeed, China closed to the arrival of any non-Chinese citizens 3 days later. Although their experience is quite topical, he cannot write about anything going on in China because, due to the spat between China and the US and mutual expulsion of reporters, his employer chose not to seek a license for him. So, he is writing his DC political commentary from Shanghai.

    On their arrival at Pudong Airport, the family was interviewed, their temperatures checked, a COVID19 test taken. Then they were escorted to a row of vans, each heading to a different area of Shanghai. They were directly escorted to their apartment and a device attached to their door to monitor their 14-day quarantine. If the door was opened more than 3 times a day, a signal would be sent to the authorities, who would then transfer them to a quarantine hotel for closer observation. All restaurants were closed and food and groceries had to be delivered, which is fairly routine in Chinese cities. Their dog, already in a kennel, had to remain there for 14 days, since walking her for elimination, would be awkward. Schools were closed, so the children remained home. A dentist in full PPE regalia showed up at their door twice a day to test each person’s temperature. 

    Gradually, the crisis has receded and the few flare-ups have been rapidly controlled. Traffic is about 80% of normal. Restaurants and businesses are generally open. Factories and mines are close to full operation,. No one would dare be on the street without a mask.

    Although it is obviously easier for an autocratic regime to induce such intense constraints on citizens’ behavior, South Korea and New Zealand seem to have achieved similar beneficial results. You can draw your own conclusions as to why the US was unable to achieve this type of control and is now suffering through a horrendous epidemic in the face of its vaunted medical system. 

    On the final day of self-quarantine, my daughter-in-law noticed on her cell phone that a package had been left at that door. Because it was 2 AM, she considered that the quarantine was over, so opened the door to retrieve the package. At 8 AM an official arrived to transport them to the quarantine hotel! It turned out the officials were operating on an 8 AM to 8 AM “day” rather than a “Midnight to Midnight” day. Obviously it made no sense to transport them under that circumstance, so the official relented. Welcome to 1984 Redux!