Let’s talk about the latest Tampa Bay Times coronavirus op-ed and how much it sucks

Yeah, it sucks pretty bad.

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click to enlarge Let’s talk about the latest Tampa Bay Times coronavirus op-ed and how much it sucks
Screenshot via Tampa Bay Times

Today, coronavirus cases in Florida climbed over 1,000, and to mark this historically awful occasion the state’s largest newspaper issued a big wet op-ed telling local leaders in Tampa Bay to calm down and refrain from anything drastic, like issuing a stay-at-home order. 

Of course, the piece, titled “Why would Tampa Bay need a stay-at-home order?” lists no real facts on why we shouldn’t work a little harder to stop the spread of this worldwide pandemic, other than we should be nice to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and we need to remember to respect each other's personal liberties. Calling it now, this will go down as one of the dumbest headlines in recent Florida history, which is saying a lot considering the fact that one of Florida’s largest exports is world-renown dumb headlines. 

So, let’s run down a few of the points the Tampa Bay Times Editorial board attempts to lob at its readers.

“As the number of coronavirus cases rise in Florida and Tampa Bay, state and local officials should avoid an emotional response and be clear-eyed about the impact of further restrictions. There are a number of variables to consider before issuing sweeping stay-at-home orders, and while public health ranks at the top the impact of further restrictions on families, businesses and the economy cannot be ignored. This new normal is going to evolve over months rather than days, and a knee-jerk reaction to the news of the minute could have more severe long-term consequences than any potential benefit.”

The article actually starts with this assumption that everyone (state officials, city commissioners, the media, etc.) is somehow operating on pure ignorance and ignoring important data. No one is doing that, including reporters at the Times. In fact, we have plenty of data that suggests we should act preemptively to curb the coronavirus pandemic. What we don’t have is enough test kits. 

“Gov. Ron DeSantis has been unfairly criticized on cable news and social media for his methodical approach to gradually implementing statewide restrictions as governors in New York, California and Illinois have issued sweeping stay-at-home orders.”

No, he deserves all of it. Last week, DeSantis actually said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to ratchet up any statewide orders because he literally saw a couple guys on the golf course not shaking hands and riding in their golf carts by themselves. That’s real data right there, folks. Meanwhile, beaches remained packed even after counties began shutting them down, and residents in The Villages refused to get out of their own overly-packed community pools. 

“In fact, Florida’s governor has struck a reasonable balance. He has spoken regularly and frankly to Floridians about expanding testing and acquiring medical supplies, and he has appropriately expressed concern about overbearing, statewide restrictions that would impact the physical and mental health of families and inflict more harm on a state economy that already is being devastated. ‘For every action,’ DeSantis said Monday morning, ‘there is a reaction.’”

It’s wild that the Times Editorial Board presents this quote like DeSantis is some sort of galaxy-brained super genius. True, “for every action, there’s a reaction” and, for every non-action, the pandemic gets worse. 

“It’s understandable that Miami-Dade and Broward counties have implemented more restrictions than Tampa Bay and the rest of the state. South Florida has the largest concentration of coronavirus cases, which have climbed to more than 1,100 statewide. But some 20 Florida counties do not have a single case. DeSantis said Monday that test kits are becoming more available and test sites are expanding, so the number of reported cases will continue to rise.”

This might be the worst take in the whole piece. The bottom line is we don’t have enough tests. How do you know that there are counties without cases when they haven’t been tested? According to the Tampa Bay Times, only 13,000 people have been tested in a state with over 21 million people. Wishing for tests is one thing, knowing your state is chugging along with undiagnosed carriers, and acting like everyone is healthy and fine, is just plain stupid and dangerous. 

“Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman should proceed with caution as they consider whether to issue stay-at-home orders. Bars and restaurants are closed. Schools and universities are closed. State parks and beaches are closed. Employees of many businesses are working from home. Where is the data that would justify tougher restrictions that would surely leave more families without paychecks and could create more panic and hoarding? How would more restrictions be more effective than continuing to promote social distancing?”

We’ve already witnessed what happens when stricter lockdowns are ordered in other countries like China and Italy. While drastic, these measures have curbed the rise of new transmissions. This data exists! Just suggesting to people that “practice social distancing,” is all we need, doesn’t cut it. If you walked into a Publix right now and asked 10 people to define “social distancing,” you would get 10 different answers. 

“If Tampa Bay officials are determined to implement more local restrictions on businesses and movement, it would have to be a regional approach. Thousands of residents each day commute between Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Even more unworkable would be a situation where the Hillsborough County Commission decides against a stay-at-home order and Castor decides to impose one in the city of Tampa. This is one community, and there has to be one set of rules.”

Do you honestly think people would still be commuting here if everything is closed? Literally less than an hour after this piece was posted, the Times also published another article titled “‘Huge amounts’ of New Yorkers flocking to Florida, Gov. DeSantis says in refusing lock down.” How the hell is this not an argument to close everything down? Why would they come here if absolutely nothing is open? 

“It’s natural that county commissioners and mayors feel pressure to take more action. This is uncharted territory, and there is not nearly enough leadership, vision or help coming from Washington. The governors, mayors and local officials are doing their best to fill the void. But their decisions have long-term consequences, and they should act on facts rather than emotion. And if they enact a stay at home order, they should be crystal clear with the public about the specific details.”

This point actually eats itself. It’s sort of a coronavirus ouroboros. Here the Times Editorial Board acknowledges that we aren’t getting direction on the federal level, and that DeSantis is “doing his best,” like he’s a little kid who just built his own pinewood derby car. Look, if we’re not getting help from above, don’t you think it's the moral responsibility of local leaders to step up? 

“Of course, the best way for Tampa Bay to avoid more sweeping government restrictions is for residents to act responsibly. Follow the existing restrictions. Practice social distancing. Don’t hoard food and supplies. Be particularly mindful of the elderly and other vulnerable populations. Getting through this pandemic will require a collective effort. The more Floridians meet their individual obligations for the common good, the less need there will be for more sweeping government intervention.” 

The board calls for a “collective effort” from everyone to stop the spread of coronavirus, but not “collective” like in the sense of more government, "collective" like, we all mind meld and just get on the same page for the first time in human existence.

This certainly is a classic libertarian wet dream.

Personal responsibility will not stop a pandemic. The recent influx of spring breakers proved this point. If it was up to the Times Editorial Board we would all just sit back and trust that Jake and Chad from Ohio State are respectfully chugging beers from a distance of six-feet apart. 

The threat is real, and the consequences of inaction are real. And, thankfully, not all local leaders are buying into this “head in the sand" ethos.

In a Facebook Live press conference today, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor showed frustration in Hillsborough County opting to delay a countywide stay-at-home order, and said “the longer you wait, the longer it’s going to take to recover,” adding “if we don’t act now, people are going to die. We’ve seen it already happen in other countries.” 


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About The Author

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Euclid Media Group.
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