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Refusal to Reopen Economy Exposes Real Agenda

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

The online Gainesville City Commission meeting on April 24 exposed the real agenda for commissioners who refuse to reopen the economy. They seem happy to see lives destroyed so they can swoop in and be the benevolent rescuers of the downtrodden, all using other people’s money, of course.

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The commissioners voted to send a GNVCares About Neighbors proposal to the city staff to finalize details on payments of $1,250 to Gainesville residents in need. They started with $2,500, but Mayor Poe said that would only help 278 families. Reducing the number will help twice as many, but the real motive behind the GNVCares program is to make the commissioners look good. According to the Census Bureau, the number of households in Gainesville is over 48,000, so this money will help one percent of Gainesville families.

They’re using the fear caused by COVID-19 and the economic destruction created by Governor DeSantis, County Commissioner Hutchinson, and many other petty tyrants across the U.S. to implement the redistributive policies some of them have always wanted. Commissioner Arreola even said he sees the commission’s job as “coming up with ways to establish an economy that can at least supply life’s basic needs.” Did he just rewrite the city charter or the state constitution?

There are definitely people who need help, thanks to draconian measures taken to stop a virus that’s only affected 0.09 percent of Alachua County (at least, that’s the number that have tested positive for the disease). Sadly, there’s not a dashboard to track the suffering caused by the lockdown: people fired, businesses going bankrupt, people missing important surgeries, an increased number of domestic violence incidents, etc. Nationally, we’re at 26.3 million unemployment claims. The March Bureau of Labor Statistics report listed 163 million people in the civilian labor force. That means we added 16.1 percent to the unemployment rate that was 3.5 percent in February, so we’re close to 20 percent unemployment. Go back and compare that number to the percentage of COVID-19 cases in Alachua County and the percentage of families helped by the Neighbors program.

The way to help families is to end the lockdown and let young (<65), healthy people get back to work. But city commissioners are too busy spouting national political talking points. Arreola said he wanted to see a fall in daily transmission rates, infection rates, and deaths. Maybe he didn’t bother to notice that Alachua County only has one death so far from COVID-19 (on April 21). How do you show a sustained and consistent drop from one?

(Sadly, now that there are cases in three long-term care facilities, we’re likely going to get more deaths, and continued economic lockdown won’t prevent those deaths; in fact, lockdown policies may be destroying resources that are important for protecting our elderly population. Realize that 25 percent of deaths in New York state occurred in nursing homes, mainly because the Health Department required them to take COVID-19 patients.)

Arreola also said he wanted to know hospitals can cope with the flow of patients. So far, Alachua County has had a cumulative total of 41 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. Compare that to the 624 available beds on April 25. Because hospitals are nearly empty, local hospital employees are being furloughed and being forced to take vacation they don’t have. Even New York City was able to handle the hospitalization of COVID-19 patients and barely used the additional hospital capacity that was added.

Arreola insisted we need the advice of health experts to avoid a second wave of infections, but Alachua County already meets the criteria for Phase 1 reopening, according to Paul Myers, the Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health.

Arreola showed he doesn’t want to reopen Gainesville by insisting on “more” testing (he didn’t say what an acceptable level might be). Increasing the amount of testing practically guarantees more cases. The graph below shows the relationship between the number of daily tests and the number of new daily cases for Alachua County since test data was first provided by county on the Dashboard. The slope of the regression line is statistically significant (p-value 0.009).

The graph below compares the number of COVID-19 cases in Alachua County to the rest of Florida, Dade County, and the U.S. It’s clear Alachua County has far fewer cases per capita. We definitely should not be treated the same as Dade County. (The graph is per one million population, which actually makes Alachua County’s cases look higher than they are because we only have a population of 269,000. The U.S. data is from Worldometer, and the Florida state and county data come from the Dashboard.)

Similar graphs in a previous column show Florida’s per-capita number of cases is not much different than Sweden, which did not close its economy in response to COVID-19. Here is the graph of total cases per million population after 100 cases. (The “after 100 cases” graph is a common way of looking at epidemiology data. Again, since this is per million, Alachua County’s cases get multiplied by about 4, thus starting around 400.)

While Alachua County is higher in the total cases graph, note that the slope is flatter than the others, meaning our cases are growing at a slower rate. This is confirmed by the daily new cases graph, which shows Alachua County has been below the per capita growth rate of the state since March 28.

To make things more clear, here’s the graph of daily new cases in Alachua County since we crossed 100 cases on April 2. There’s a downward trend line, but it is not statistically significant because we keep getting spikes on days with a lot of testing. For example, the last spike of 13 new cases came on a day with 418 tests, roughly 4 times more tests than the previous day.

The final two graphs show that Alachua County has been steadily increasing the number of daily tests, but the percentage of daily positive tests is actually decreasing. The trend lines in both graphs are statistically significant (p-value 0.02 and 0.001, respectively). The average positive test rate in Alachua County is only 3.9%, less than half the state average of 9.2%.

Despite all this data, city and county commissioners are signaling that they may not follow the governor’s lead if he decides to remove restrictions and reopen the economy. They’re using COVID-19 as an excuse. No amount of data is going to be enough to convince politicians who want to fundamentally transform our economy.

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