It should come as no surprise, eight months into the ebbing and surging coronavirus pandemic in Florida, that we are not in this thing together.
True to form, the state of Florida seems poised to stop funding for contact tracing, an effective tool to alert people who have been exposed to the virus to get tested. It pushes those who test positive into isolation and treatment, while giving peace of mind to those who test negative.
But, according to the Tampa Bay Times, Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County health department, informed a county commission meeting that the state will stop funding local contact tracing efforts at the end of November.
“We want to keep the contact tracing effective. We want to maintain those people that we have,” Alonso said at the meeting on Oct. 27. “Definitely a big concern for the entire state.”
Florida’s surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, has affirmed that contact tracing is “a way that we actually stop the cycle of transmission.”
That’s big, if only because the governor has assiduously sidelined or muzzled the scientists, the medical experts, the numbers crunchers and, at times, Rivkees, himself.
It’s yet one more in a long line of irresponsible policies emanating from state leaders, most notably Gov. Ron DeSantis, since the coronavirus showed up in March. Too often, it’s been a political opportunity, not a medical emergency that demanded swift and decisive action.
Also true to form, the state isn’t saying much about this latest move. Jason Mahon, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Emergency Management said that state officials will “work with” county health departments to make sure contact tracing efforts are funded.
The state doesn’t readily report the size of its contact tracing workforce, how many cases it has attempted to reach and how many were reached successfully. But it has paid the company Maximus between $65 million and $70 million for results the state won’t share.
Local health departments, especially in the hardest hit counties of South Florida, should band together and push for credible answers from the state, then push some more for continued funding. Those counties have been out in front of tackling COVID-19, where the state has lagged.
A vigorous contact tracing initiative is even more imperative now that the number of COVID-19 cases is edging back up in the state, though the state’s version of the program never have been very robust. Again, tracing can be an effective measure to contain the virus’ spread.
Of course, contact tracing is only as good as people are willing to participate. Much like the misguided anti-maskers who don’t care about the danger they pose, not everyone wants to tell tracers with whom they’ve socialized.
And we don’t have high hopes the governor will stress how truly important it is to cooperate.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE MIAMI HERALD