Florida: Let’s Roll Up Our Sleeves and Get Back to Work

Author: Pat Geraghty, President & CEO, GuideWell/Florida Blue

The public health and economic challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic continue to test our state’s resilience.

Over the next several months, it remains critical that we continue to mask up, social distance and observe the protocols that can keep one another safe and slow the spread of the virus.

New COVID-19 cases in Florida rose 26% to more than 90,000 cases last week with 13.1% of test results coming back positive, up from 9.1% the week before. A more contagious variant of COVID-19 also was detected for the first time in Florida last week. Even with businesses reopening, an estimated 651,000 Floridians—6.4% of our workforce—remained unemployed as of November. And, Florida’s economy is expected to contract by 2.4% year-over-year in 2020, according to a November estimate by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting.

But there’s reason for hope, as we slowly roll out effective COVID-19 vaccines. It’s clear that vaccinating as large a portion of our population as possible will eventually end the pandemic and is the surest path to our state’s economic recovery. It’s especially important that Florida’s business community take the lead and assist our elected officials and public health community in this important endeavor.

Yes, in the truest sense, now is the time for all of us to roll up our sleeves.

The good news is that through every stage of this crisis, the overwhelming majority of Floridians have responded with courage, compassion and a deep sense of community. As we finally see light at the end of the tunnel, we need to stay true to these commitments.

It will take effort and example to persuade some of our citizens to say yes to vaccines. The most recent survey of Americans indicates that 27% of U.S. adults say they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, which means execution of a vaccination plan that needs 80% of the population vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity will take education and commitment.

Over the coming weeks and months here in Florida, people will be looking to employers and health care providers to not only make vaccinations conveniently available, but also to encourage participation by communicating honestly and building trust in the safety and efficacy of the treatments. Given the urgency and promise of this initiative, large and small businesses may choose to require their employees to be vaccinated or offer creative incentives and rewards to encourage vaccination.

Hopefully, when offered the opportunity to become vaccinated, informed Floridians will be further motivated to say yes by the courage they’ve witnessed every day from our frontline health providers and essential services providers who have been leaving the safety of their homes every day for the greater good.

Compassion will also play a key role in our success, especially when it comes to prioritizing vaccine distribution. People across our state have displayed touching compassion over the last 10 trying months as loved ones fought for their lives, senior homes were closed to visitation, and thousands of our citizens were taken from us.

While Florida initially focuses on providing the vaccine to our large senior population and health care workers with direct contact with patients, we must ensure that future phases of distribution live up to our sense of community.

While we’re all in this together, it’s clear that communities of color have suffered disproportionately. The mortality rate among Black and Latino people infected with COVID-19 is 40% higher than the rate in white populations. Our Black and Latino citizens make up a large share of workers in essential roles and are far less likely than other populations to have the flexibility to work from home. They are the backbone of our health care workforce, but have less access to timely, affordable health care.

These systemic inequities cry out for long-overdue attention. We must focus special efforts in underserved communities and among essential workers in our vaccine rollout.

While we await broad availability of the vaccine in our state, it is imperative that we continue to be vigilant in wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and confined spaces and washing our hands. These basic tasks are essential to managing the spread of coronavirus while vaccine distribution ramps up over the coming months.

Underscoring the importance of getting our own house in order, it’s not an exaggeration to say the nation is watching to see what we make of this precious opportunity. Before COVID-19, 131 million visitors came to Florida each year, spending more than $94 billion annually on lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and transportation. They will only return if they feel safe visiting our world-class attractions.

A smooth vaccine rollout, facilitated by our state’s business community, will go a long way toward winning back this lifeblood of our economy. The time to roll up our sleeves is now!