Editor’s note: we’re seeing a lot of Facebook comments from people worried about media reports on hospital bed capacity. The latest check of the dashboard shows Florida has more than 12,000 unoccupied hospital beds, including 1,600 unoccupied beds in Miami Dade county. These figures are largely unchanged from last month. Get the latest stats here.
While hospitalizations and deaths in Florida are still likely to climb for the next week or two, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is banking on the fact that neither figure will come close to the utter catastrophe that befell New York in April, when Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s state logged more than 32,000 deaths. Over the past several days, several key measures of Florida’s coronavirus data hint that new cases of the virus may have peaked and could soon be on the decline.
Make no mistake, the disease is still spreading, particularly among younger Floridians, but also much more among older, more vulnerable adults. That means that the national headlines attacking DeSantis for reopening his state will likely not wane until early August. At that point, the national debate on school re-openings will be raging against the backdrop of whatever new virus hotspots have opened up around the nation.
Here’s the data that DeSantis is looking at, which gives him confidence that Florida can ride out the current outbreak without statewide closures that would further wreck the already ravaged economy.
WHO’S GETTING SICK?
The first chart up shows which age groups tested positive for COVID-19 over the last 72 hours, and compares it with the same data for the entire month of June and also the “first wave” of cases that started in March and continued through the first month of Florida’s reopening in May.
Unlike the first wave, which was led by 45-60 year olds in March, April and May, the last 72 hours in Florida saw the 30 and under crowd still leading all other age groups. But comparing the last 72 hours with the stats from June shows that college-aged youth, which likely sparked Florida’s new outbreak, have now started to spread it older adults in their social networks:
A RISE IN TOTAL SERIOUS CASES, BUT HOSPITALIZATION AND DEATH RATES DECLINE
The fact that Florida’s ongoing surge in new cases remains relatively concentrated among the younger population is the reason that, so far, the state hasn’t seen a rapid rise in hospitalizations and deaths. That doesn’t mean those two stats haven’t increased. Indeed they have. But not nearly at the same rate that cases have risen. Don’t let the chart below fool you, it’s an extreme close up and not to scale versus actual cases, which we’ll get to in a moment:
Obviously, as the chart above shows, since early June we started to see a steady climb in serious cases, which then accelerated slightly in July as cases started to spread to older Floridians, courtesy of the college-aged crowd, which include the bar-hoppers, party-goers and yes, the BLM protesters marching shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets.
The number of serious cases is going to keep climbing, probably for another two weeks, as more serious symptoms take a few days to a week or more to manifest. But as a percentage of total cases, it’s quite clear that the rate of serious cases are lagging far behind where we were in April and May, when 20 percent or more of all infections resulted in hospitalization. Here’s the hospitalization and death rate for Florida expressed as a percentage of confirmed cases:
Clearly, the fact that cases were heavily concentrated among younger Floridians gave DeSantis confidence that the more vulnerable, older population were still taking precautions to protect themselves.
HAS FLORIDA REACHED PEAK VIRUS?
Here’s the chart showing serious cases plotted to scale along side all infections (blue). Note the plateau in new cases over the last three days:
Obviously, it’s too early to say for sure, but at some point, and likely soon, Florida’s new cases counts are likely to taper off and start declining. We’re also seeing a plateau among the positive test rate as the following chart shows. It’s important to also note that, as the Alachua Chronicle first reported last week, many labs haven’t been reporting negative tests to Florida’s Department of Health, which caused the positive test rate to appear higher than it actually was. Regardless, we’re seeing a slowdown in positive tests as a percentage of total tests – a good indicator that COVID-19 spread may be slowing in Florida:
Taken together, the data give us a pretty clear indication of where we’re headed: COVID-19 will continue to spread to older Floridians over the next two weeks (and beyond), but if the current trends hold, it will also start to decline at some point in that same time span. By August, we will likely have seen a few daily “spikes” in cases, but overall, spread will continue to slow across the state. The number of serious cases, and the rate of serious cases, will likely climb over that same span, simply due to the delayed onset of symptoms and the fact that more vulnerable people will get sick as the disease spreads.
The headlines, driven by New York City-based national media outlets like the New York Times, CNN and others, will continue bashing Florida. They will gleefully report on anything New York Governor Cuomo says, as he tries to rewrite history in an effort to make everyone believe that he saved New York, and that DeSantis’s balanced approach to protecting the state’s hospital resources while simultaneously keeping the economy moving is nothing more than stubborn ignorance borne out of loyalty to President Donald Trump.
Don’t believe any of it.
But do take precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from this nasty virus as you go about your daily lives. It’s highly contagious, dangerous to some, and it’s still spreading.