Back by (un)popular demand, the Florida vs. Illinois pandemic score card

Crowds cool off along the lakefront near Diversey Parkway on July 14, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

Crowds cool off along the lakefront near Diversey Parkway on July 14, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

This column appeared today in the Chicago Tribune

By Dennis Byrne

After this headline, “Sorry, Illinois, but Florida is doing this reopening thing right,” appeared above my May 8 chattering in this space, emails began showing up. “Dear Moron,” one opened. Another closed, “here’s hoping that you and your family die.” In between, an assortment of slurs, aspersions and denunciations arrived. Some quite clever.

The volume only increased as Florida, along with other states, began experiencing more new cases. Especially Florida, where experts declared that the Miami area was now the world’s pandemic “epicenter.”

Some emails even sounded gleeful that Florida’s caseload was spiking. Never mind the humanity. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was right, they said, when she gave it to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “fumbling” by reopening the beaches. “God help us all,” she intoned.” A Twitter hashtag, #floridamorons, piled on.

Well, there’s this:

As of Wednesday morning, cumulative deaths attributed to COVID-19 are: Illinois, 7,218; Florida, 4,409, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Florida Department of Health, respectively.

Florida’s population of 21.48 million is almost double of Illinois’ 12.67 million. Yet Illinois has suffered 2,809 more deaths than Florida. Maybe Florida has been doing something right.

Critics now will fill my inbox with more directives, explaining why new cases, hospitalizations, test results and other data are more important than deaths.

But deaths are the key statistic. It’s the ultimate failure, the tragedy that causes the most pain, for the patient, family and the heroic health care providers. It’s the loss of a life.

I didn’t start this grudge match about who got it right, or who’s to blame. I was asked to respond when Lightfoot butted in, uninvited, while her own lockdown regulations were just as questionable as DeSantis’. A case in point: the lengthy closing of the lakefront to walkers and bikers when science says the risk of transmission is lower outdoors. Follow the science? Bah. Lightfoot is as qualified to judge what other states do as President Donald Trump is to brag that he can halt the violence in Chicago.

Truth is that no one knew from the start how to deal with the novel coronavirus. Not Trump. Not his Democratic, progressive or woke critics. And clearly not the epidemiologists who seem to have gotten so much wrong. Yet, they still want us to take their warnings as biblical. When they can’t accurately count the infected or calculate the fatality rate.

I could say that Miami’s troubling increase in new cases is the result of all those Democrats from New York and Chicago who fled their own epicenters and brought the disease (and their woke politics) with them. But I can’t; I don’t know. Certainly, the hypothesis that interstate travel was as significant as the arrival of infected travelers from China and Europe deserves study. I suspect a federal grant already is in the works.

We all have been stumbling around, and too many are letting their partisanship, self-interest or ego rule. What we should be learning — among many lessons — is that “science” is fragile and fallible. Especially today’s “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” science. Science, as demonstrated by our struggle to understand and deal with the unique coronavirus and COVID-19, sometimes is fouled by incomplete or poorly collected data, unproven hypotheses and, simply, wild guesses. Automatically accepting “science” findings as a done deal is a fool’s game.

Even worse is the assumption that “infallible science” can’t be challenged by or balanced with other policy considerations. Most notably missing in this equation is the impact of the pandemic lockdown on jobs and the economy. A truly scientific approach would weigh the epidemiologists’ policies as compared with rigorous scholarship about their negative, even dangerous, impacts on the economy. What is the calculus, for example, on whether the psychological and learning damage from keeping children out of school is more destructive than their transmission of the virus? Sadly, asking this question will get you assigned as a Trump supporter who cares only about the stock market.

So far, Lightfoot has demonstrated a troubling grasp of how to balance health and economic needs. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire with no firsthand acquaintance with checking accounts drying up and pink slips arriving, has demonstrated that he hasn’t an inkling about the misery that he has caused.

So, in Lightfoot’s words, “God help us.”


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  • As a health care provider for over 40 years, you are 100% correct about the idea that “science” is fallible and fragile due to unproved hypothesis or wishful guesses. So many “science” theories and experts have fallen in flames over the years. I will add one more caveat. What makes an expert an expert? A couple of good Power Point presentations, an authoritative voice, and a couple of initials after your name can make YOU an expert. I graduated with several of these “experts” who have since been discredited. With many examples of being misled by “experts” over the years, call my middle name cynical.

  • Back to your same old thesis--only the body counts matter. The ill are irrelevant. But even if we accept your thesis, I'm sure you wanted to get your article published without delay. The dead bodies are piling up in Florida. They may soon exceed those in Illinois. Will you then claim that only the dead in the first five months should be counted?

    Maybe one day you will acknowledge that we have a national problem without national leadership. No state is going to solve it alone.

  • And you're back to your same old effort to create a stratman. I did not say nor do I claim that "only body counts" matter. All those other things that I said would be pointed out also count. Maybe one day you'll stop turning what you read into a pro- or anti-Trump thing. Did you miss the part where I said that "Truth is that no one knew from the start how to deal with the novel coronavirus. Not Trump. Not his Democratic, progressive or woke critics. And clearly not the epidemiologists who seem to have gotten so much wrong." I'm sure you'll try to have a last word response, that again doesn't address what I actually say.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    You did not talk about when the body count in Florida catches up with that in Illinois. I notice that the latest daily death tally is 156 in Florida; 25 in Illinois.

    I guess you are suggesting that no one, scientists included, know how to deal with this, so we should all ignore the scientists and do what feels right. I wonder, how did the Europeans and Chinese got beyond us? They took the quarantine seriously and they now consider us the "dirty Americans." But, we are proud of our fatalism: "S--t happens."

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    You just comment that deaths are the most important statistic and then ignore the fact that deaths in Florida are spiking and deaths in IL are not. Someone else has pointed out the number of deaths yesterday, so I won't bother. But, I'll ask, how long do you think it will be until the total number of deaths in Florida (the most important statistic, after all) exceeds those in IL? How long until total hospitalizations exceeds those in IL? And we can only think of how lucky the people in FL are that the worst of the pandemic hit them in July, not March/April, after all the early lessons in treatment have already been absorbed by the medical community.

    No, no... Please don't take this comment as a suggestion that you should suddenly start to act rational. Please, keep posting about how the states that have re-opened too quickly and against the advice of the people who know the most about these things are really the smart ones.

  • The fact is that even body counts are suspect. One of my patients, 70+ y/o, a two pack a day smoker for 50 years, diagnosed pre pandemic with terminal lung cancer, covid positive in nursing home, died. Cause of death—covid. Maybe, maybe, the virus accelerated her death by a day, but it wasn't the cause of death. Another nursing home patient of mine that died, waiting two years for a kidney transplant, cause of death—covid. No, no, cause of death was blood sepsis from having lockdown delay dialysis schedule. Gang shooting in May, Washington state, 4 bangers died, two positive, cause of death, covid, not homicide.
    In May, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) criticized the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for inflating the number of coronavirus deaths. “The CDC criteria include anybody who has died with COVID-19, but what the people of Colorado and the people of the country want to know is how many people died of COVID-19,” he told Fox News’s Chris Wallace. Colorado’s Health Department revised its official coronavirus death count down from 1,150 to 878, a stunning 23.7 percent reduction.
    “Hospital administrators might well want to see COVID-19 attached to a discharge summary or a death certificate. Why? Because if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for – if they’re Medicare – typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000,” Dr. Jensen wrote on Facebook. “But if it’s COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.”
    There are financial and political advantages to having the covid body count high. What is the actual count? Somewhere down the line, there will be investigations into fraudulent death counts.

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    I haven't seen anything, anywhere, other than anonymous bulletin boards where the cause of death of someone shot with a gun has been attributed to covid. Can you point to any sort of backing documentation? Because I have talked to medical professionals who've told me the opposite. Sometimes covid is listed as a contributing factor, sometimes not. But, you just saying it so doesn't make it so.

    And, your selective quoting of Polis shows a bit of your partisanship (God, how did a disease become partisan?). When pressed, he freely admitted that there was no evidence, anywhere, that he could even wave his hands at to back up the accusation that the attribution of covid was done for financial reasons. He essentially made it up and when called out on it, he backtracked. But, since there is nothing that makes you act honestly on an anonymous bulletin board, you get to repeat it and act like you are some sort of genius for ferreting this out.

  • In reply to BillDCat:

    How did this disease become partisan? Rahm Emmanuel: "Never let a big crisis go to waste."

    Speaking of anonymous... why don't you reveal your own name? We wouldn't want to think you aren't acting honestly with your breathless fact-checking of another anonymous poster.

    So, what's your name?

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Good question. I'm thinking of requiring a real name to post. Come out of the shadows, folks. I am.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    HI Dennis,
    I read your article in the Trib a few weeks back and thought that it was extremely shortsighted. Additionally, I feel you've unfairly criticized the response to COVID by the city of Chicago and the state of IL. Florida will fly past IL in death count next week. It seems as though it is a good bet that FL's death per capita will also be higher than IL sometime in August if the current pace continues, which seems likely because FL's new case count continues to hover around 9,000 per day. Will you pen an piece admitting that you were wrong in condemning the IL response and lauding the FL response?

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    I see that once again you choose to attack a poster, but not his argument.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    No, I answered the poster's question about why the reaction to the virus is partisan. Wanting to know to whom you're speaking is not an attack; it's a reasonable question.

    Now, who are you? Why do you hide in the shadows?

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Who am I? I am jnorto. Were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay hiding in the shadows when they wrote the Federalist Papers under the name Publius?

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I see. You're a comedian. I have often confused your comments with the Federalist Papers.

    Say your name, shadow man.

  • In reply to BillDCat:

    Do a little research. 5/28. Not an anonymous BB.
    Report: Washington state admits to having gun shot deaths tallied in virus death count.
    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – The state of Washington has come under scrutiny lately regarding the manner in which they’re recording deaths related to COVID-19. The reason is that officials openly admitted to inaccuracies related to the active death toll, noting that somehow gunshot wound victims were being labeled as COVID deaths.
    If Polis was only joking and made it up, why did the Colorado Health Dept revise the death toll from 1150 to 878 if there was no evidence?
    Dennis has my contact info and my credentials, so yes, 40 years+ of experience makes me a bit of a sleuth and cynic of government and "experts".

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    You're referring us to a Fox station in Lansing Michigan as a data base for research?

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Don't any of you trolls know how to Google? Google "Washington state covid deaths gunshot". Newsbreak is a site breaking news from various cities, in this case, Seattle. No Fox affiliation. There are at least four other web sites with the same info-SeattleWeekly, bellevuereporter, and clarkcountytoday, komonews. All refer to gang shootings counted as covid deaths around May 21-22. How much more research do you need?

  • Let's follow the math since your first article on May 8th to now:

    According to your article, Florida had 1,669 deaths as of May 8th and 4409 currently: An increase of 164%

    Illinois had 3241 deaths as of May 8th and 7218 currently: An increase of 123%

    Looking at the trend of deaths, on May 8th the 7 day moving average in Florida was 51 deaths and the current 7 DMA is 95: An 85% increase.

    On May 8th the 7 DMA of deaths in Illinois was 115 and currently sits at 17: An 85% decrease.

    So I concede to you that yes, Illinois has experienced more deaths than Florida due to the Coronavirus (for now). But if we are talking about the efforts by each state to control the virus and decrease the number of deaths, it is clear that Illinois is taking the right steps and Florida is going in the wrong direction.

    If we look out 40 days (the approximate number of days from your first article to this one), with the current 7 day moving average from today, Florida will see an additional 3,800 deaths over that time with a total of 8,209. Using the current 7 DMA in Illinois, they will see only 680 more deaths for a total of 7,898.

    Sadly the 7 day moving average is increasing in Florida (with an 85% increase over the next 40 days, it will be closer to 176 deaths per day instead of 95) and will likely result in a total death toll higher than 8,209. Whereas the 7 DMA in Illinois is decreasing (with an 85% decrease over the next 40 days it will be closer to 3 deaths per day instead of 17) and could end up lower than 7,898.

    My sincere hope is that this is not what plays out in the real world, but without politicians stepping up in Florida and taking real action, only time will tell. I look forward to your scorecard in another 40 days.

  • I work in the healthcare field. It should surprise no one that a state that surged early like Illinois or New Jersey will have higher death rates. Because of their international hubs and large cities, those regions surged early and their medical workers WERE LESS KNOWLEDGEABLE OF THE VIRUS. They didn't know how to treat it. NOW, four months in, medical professionals have an infinitely better understanding of how to treat it. So, what states like Florida and Arizona are "doing right" as you put it is using the knowledge gleaned from the battlefield in states like Illinois and Massachusetts, who learned from places like Italy that surged even earlier. As each city is hit, it will know more thanks to the men and women who risked their lives early on for more knowledge.

    Florida's lower death rate (as of right now) has nothing to do with its reopening plans, which you have praised. It doesn't mean Florida is a better state with better hospitals. It means they're LUCKY that treatment of COVID-19 has come a long way in the past few months.

  • Claiming "deaths are the key statistic," which is also short-sighted and wrong. Yes, death is what we ultimately wish to avoid, but you'd be better off using hospitalizations as a key statistic. Hospitalization is what denotes serious illness, which we all hope to avoid, especially when we don't yet know the long-term effects of COVID. Hospitalizations typically mean organ failure and the need to relearn how to walk and talk for COVID survivors. Survivors still go through hell, and we don't know what awaits them in the coming years.

    Plus, overwhelmed hospitals will mean crises in town, damage to communities, PTSD for medical workers. Full ICU beds mean car crash or gunshot victims will have to be diverted elsewhere. They have to wait longer for treatment. Even if people survive, they're left with insanely high medical bills.

    Repeat after me: lower deaths does not mean a victory. COVID-19 victims often die weeks after testing positive, anyway, so it's too soon to tell. We should be striving for FEWER infections, period.

  • Anyone who puts science in quotation marks should stop writing about COVID-19. Seriously, Dennis, you're just digging a metaphorical grave for yourself with each ill-informed post. In a few weeks, you'll be trying to dig yourself out of this one.

    These are the facts:
    1. Florida is one of the many states who declared victory too soon and did not take the virus seriously enough.
    2. Illinois is one of the few states whose response has been in line with federal and global recommendations.
    3. There was no early, aggressive federal action on the virus, which has put all 50 states (and the world, really) in harm's way.

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