Floridians Look for Clear Messaging on Masks as Covid Cases Spike

Jun 26, 2020

Florida is slamming the brakes on plans to move forward with reopening.  The move comes as a record high of nearly nine thousand people tested positive for Covid-19 today. The state also announced it was immediately suspending drinking alcohol at bars, as it tries to limit the spread of the virus.

As more people test positive, local municipalities from Key West to the Panhandle are ordering people to wear masks. But Governor Ron DeSantis has resisted a statewide rule.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Local journalists are working hard to keep you informed on the latest developments across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross talked about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, and wearing masks to protect against the virus. They spoke with Dr. Cindy Prins, Associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, and Dr. Cheryl Holder, a doctor of internal medicine and Associate Professor at Florida International University College of Medicine.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

Tom Hudson: You heard the conversation from all across Florida about masks and enforcement and wearing them. As an epidemiologist, how do you hear that? 

CINDY PRINS: As an epidemiologist, number one, I agree 100 percent that we need to be wearing masks. Ideally, I would love for people opting to do that on their own because they have an understanding that it's the best way to protect themselves against getting Covid and prevent it from being spread to other people. But I think we're also at a point where we don't necessarily have the time to educate and move people the way we would normally like to toward acceptance. And so, I think that mandates are really important now because we've got to control this virus. 

Tom Hudson: What do you make of the trend that Florida has experienced over the past week? For instance, 35,000 new positive infections reported. That's an 11 percent infection rate by my back-of-the-envelope math in the last seven days. 

CINDY PRINS: I'm alarmed at this increasing trend. I mean, if you look at it, you can say that there may be some awareness of people just thinking ‘I need to go get tested. I may be infected.’ But we know that this has started as community spread. And no matter where that's coming from, this is the level of disease that you have in a state, in a community. Then there's also the concern that there are hidden cases for every case that you know about. And this trend is just going to keep increasing unless we make a move to stop it.

Tom Hudson: What data concerns you most as an epidemiologist in the community you live in or statewide that Floridians should keep their eye on? 

CINDY PRINS: Well, certainly, the overall number of cases is the concern. The fact that we're seeing increasing hospitalizations is also a real concern. You have to understand that when people are ill enough to go to the hospital, that's a severe outcome on its own. 

Melissa Ross: In one day, we've seen (nearly) 9,000 new Covid cases. The state has shut down alcohol sales. We might see more shutdowns depending on what we hear from the governor and other officials. Were you worried that this could happen, that we could see a resurgence?

Cheryl Holder: We're not surprised because, from the very beginning, the messaging has not been clear, concise, and followed with the signs. We've always been told that this is in the air—spread by droplets. So, if this is coming at you as you speak, of course, the closer you are, you're going to get exposed.

It's spread by you touching somebody, or you touching things. So, if you're not socially distancing, you're not washing hands frequently, and you're not protecting your saliva from coming out, or somebody else's saliva from coming at you, of course, there's a high risk of infection.

So, as a population, when we deny the signs and deny the ways to protect ourselves, this is not a surprise. But when we opened early without the proper messaging and not just messaging, the modeling of the behavior from all around us, it lets people become very vulnerable, to believe what they want to believe. So, in many ways, I see it on both sides. 

Melissa Ross: Do you think the states should have kept things locked down longer? Now we're seeing sort of a piecemeal attempt to get ahold of this. Beginning today, you can't buy alcohol on-premises at a bar, for example, although restaurants are still open with 50 percent capacity and the like.

Cheryl Holder:  The state should have followed the CDC guidelines, which are very clear.  

Melissa Ross: How are office workers supposed to behave?

Cheryl Holder:  The data clearly shows that you have to maintain the distance even within the office space. No elevator should be crowded. Where I work at Jackson [Memorial Hospital], they have the little markers, the little decals in the elevators. Everybody maintains distance. You should take the stairs. It's common sense. You got to stay away. So, nobody rush into an elevator. Even touching the buttons, you should find different ways to wear, take the tissue, and touch the button.

The key is to protect yourself and protect others. Because if we're in it together, we will have less death, fewer people getting sick. Again and again, I tell folks we don't know what 10, 20 years down the line will bring if you get Covid and you're asymptomatic. No one really knows. So, our goal really is to avoid infection as long as we can, and we can do it together.