COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The issue: COVID-19 cases spiking in state and county

Our opinion: We need real leadership and public cooperation to bring virus under control

The COVID-19 outbreak in Florida is raging and no amount of happy talk will bring it under control. What we need is real leadership and widespread public cooperation with proven infection control measures.

Florida is considered one of the hot spots in the country for the virus outbreak, setting new records for infection daily, and the infection rate for Citrus County continues to grow, showing an increase of 48 percent last week from a week earlier.

There is little reason to believe this trend will not continue for at least the short-term, because the number of reported cases reflects a several days to weeks-long delay from the date of the initial infection to the date that infection is reported.

The time from exposure to symptoms can be from two to 14 days, and once a person is tested, there is a seven to 10-day delay in receiving test results. This means many cases that will be reported in coming days are already infected.

In addition to the delay in reporting data, the delay in test results means that contact tracing is much less useful in identifying and isolating individuals who are infected and spreading the disease.

We have reached this situation as a result of weak leadership at the state and local level, and an unwillingness of individuals to take the simple actions necessary to control infections. When infections in the state were down, Florida started reopening, but without waiting for enough time from one step to the next to really understand the impact of that step.

Many individuals also contributed to the problem by treating re-opening like coming out after a hurricane, when everything returns to normal. As a result, groups gathered without masks and without social distancing on beaches, at bars, in restaurants and in other locations.

And as the outbreak continued to grow, our leaders were in denial. Gov. DeSantis blamed the increase largely on more testing and refused to call for a statewide mask policy, and our county commission followed suit with their refusal to mandate masks.

When faced with the overwhelming reality that there actually are more cases in the state and the virus really is out of control, state government called for a shutdown of bars, but so far has refused to limit other activities that bring people together and promote spread of infection. Our county commissioners have been largely passive bystanders.

Unless our leaders are willing to step up and mandate more stringent measures, and unless people are willing to act responsibly by covering their faces, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, practicing social distancing, and washing and sanitizing hands regularly, infections will continue to increase, hospitals will be overcrowded, medical personnel will be stressed, and small local businesses will continue to suffer.

We have the tools to bring this virus under control. They are not magic. They are basic infection control techniques, and they work. But for them to be effective, they need to be practiced by everyone.