Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer ‘Unnecessary Deaths’ As COVID-19 Restrictions Are Lifted

Oct 2, 2020

An infectious disease specialist is warning that as Florida pulls back on business and capacity restrictions, more people are likely to die of the coronavirus.

Dr. Pritish K. Tosh, M.D., is an infectious disease physician and researcher at Mayo Clinic. He typically tries not to comment on policy decisions, but he said reducing social distancing and mask use will inevitably lead to rising cases.

“That will eventually get to people who are at higher risk of complications and then lead to more hospitalizations and more deaths,” he said at a virtual news conference on Friday. “And some of it is going to be unnecessary deaths. People who would have otherwise not become infected and not have died.”

Discussing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses throughout the state, Dr. Tosh pointed to an idea he refers to as the “grim calculus.”

Related: Florida’s Governor Lifts All COVID-19 Restrictions On Businesses Statewide

“Returning the speed limit to higher speeds, it was known that this is likely to increase the number of road fatalities. But how many deaths are we willing to accept in order to drive a little bit faster?” Dr. Tosh asked, rhetorically. “In the same way, the discussion about how much of a viable, let’s say restaurant economy or economy in other aspects, is worth the increased number of unnecessary deaths from COVID?”

Dr. Tosh also said this potential rise in cases will likely strain local healthcare capacity.

“At some point, that will become overwhelmed. Then you run into contingency care, possibly crisis care,” he said. “So this really is up to Floridians to decide on where to draw this line in the grim calculus between having a functional economy and preventing unnecessary deaths.”

Dr. Tosh also warned that people shouldn’t be counting on any kind of herd immunity as a solution to the pandemic. “I really don't think that we're going to get herd immunity through natural infection,” he said.

With Florida now in Phase 3 of its reopening, Dr. Tosh said people should continue to avoid going to public places, but if they have to, continue to wear masks, even if they don’t have symptoms.

He also advised against trick-or-treating this Halloween.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.