Local And International Students Agree: Florida Isn’t Handling This Well

Ursula Muñoz Schaefer/Opinion Director

On Friday April 18th, hundreds of people took to Jacksonville Beach for some recreational time, putting Florida under further scrutiny for how terribly its leaders have been mishandling the pandemic. This came after Governor Ron DeSantis called for the reopening of the city’s beaches, to the horror of both Floridians living in the densely populated state and those watching from around the world. 

“I actually think my state has handled this the absolute worst way I’ve seen yet,” said Alejandra Gonzalez, an FIU senior majoring in English who called the recent events “a prime example of how not seriously we’re taking this pandemic.” 

DeSantis’ management of the crisis in Florida leaves a lot to be desired. With its death toll reaching 726 last week, the Sunshine State has become something of a scaled model of how Republican politicians’ ineptitude has made the United States the country with the largest number of recorded COVID-19 cases in the world.

The governor’s decision to reopen Florida’s beaches for essential activities has drawn a lot of criticism from experts and anyone who has been taking the social distancing seriously. Rather than opening only a few spots in Jacksonville, the governor should have taken health experts’ advice and waited for more testing to take place before reopening beaches across the state. This would have avoided large populations of desperate Floridians concentrating in the same area at the same time. And while the beach’s operating hours remain limited, supposed restrictions on group activities clearly weren’t enforced over the weekend, as people were spotted surfing and sunbathing.

“I think Florida in particular has been extremely irresponsible, firstly by not closing the beaches and secondly by reopening them,” said Daniela Zamora, a sophomore majoring in economics who had to go back home to Costa Rica last month when FIU Housing advised its residents to leave.

“We really take health very, very seriously here in Costa Rica,” she explained. “[Trump’s] government didn’t take this seriously enough at the beginning. It was labeled as a hoax. It was labeled as nonsense or a Democratic farce, or whatever… and that’s why we are witnessing so many deaths right now.”

Often hailed as one of the countries with the best healthcare system in Latin America, Costa Rica acted swiftly after discovering the first case of COVID-19 on its shores on March 6th, cancelling all mass gatherings and ordering all non-essential employees to work from home three days later. Then on March 16—only ten days after that first case—the country declared a state of national emergency, closed its borders and suspended any physical attendance at schools and universities—all before the number of cases reached 100.

Since then, the University of Costa Rica has been working on mass-producing masks and respirators for the busy hospitals. The country has also implemented vehicular restrictions, which ensure that citizens can only leave their homes once a week for essentials like groceries, and those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic are getting monthly checks to support themselves and their families—which, it goes without saying, is better than a $1,200 stimulus check spread over several weeks.

These initiatives are clearly working, as the number of new cases in Costa Rica has been decreasing weekly. In fact, only six people have died of COVID-19 there (that’s less than 1% of their reported cases), whereas the United States’ death toll currently sits at a whopping 45,318 (or almost 6% of reported cases). Many of the country’s progressive policies, such as universal healthcare, have people like Zamora feeling like their health and safety is being valued—something the United States should take note of.

Dina Cosic, a junior majoring in international business agrees that the Trump administration hasn’t been handling the crisis properly. Like many foreigners, Cosic believes that the president should have made an executive decision a lot earlier instead of leaving it up to the states to implement incohesive measures (hello, Florida).

“The President of the U.S. should be in charge of every state, not give each state an opinion on what to do,” she said, adding that more emphasis should have been placed on closing public gathering places, as is being done in Serbia, where she is currently staying.

“My country took this very seriously because it is a really small country so if there were no limits the virus would spread really fast,” she explained. “As soon as it’s 5pm streets are empty in the whole city and everyone is staying home.”

Serbia has imposed some of the harshest curfews of any Balkan country to stop the spread of COVID-19. The curfew there is from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m. from Mondays to Thursdays, and citizens aren’t allowed to leave their homes from 3 p.m. on Fridays to 5 a.m. on Mondays. All public and private-owned gathering places are currently closed, from stores and shopping malls to walking streets and tourist attractions, and anyone seen outside after 5 p.m. is arrested and penalized. 

Meanwhile in Miami? “I don’t see that curfew being enforced,” Gonzalez worried. “I don’t know if it has been, but personally I haven’t been witness to that.”

Restrictions like these may sound tough but they are necessary in containing the virus and flattening the curve. Many of FIU’s students are frustrated with the poor leadership in the U.S. at both a national and state level. The incompetence is hurting our academic careers and putting lives at risk.

Gonzalez, who has been doing her part social distancing, said losing her grandfather is her biggest fear during this pandemic.

“I know I’m going to be fine. I run, I have healthy lungs, I’m… you know. But my grandpa’s diabetic and he’s obviously older so that’s who I’m doing this for.”

The road ahead stays long, but with the proper precautions we’ll be able to make it out. As Trump inches closer to his plan of “Opening Up America Again” and right-wingers take to the streets to protest the quarantine at the expense of those who are most at risk, we can only hope for the best while preparing ourselves for disaster.

Featured image by Marco Verch on Flickr.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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