While Florida’s COVID-19 crisis is far from over, the massive surge in new cases we saw in early July now appears to be waning. Other leading indicators, including test positivity rates, hospital symptom surveillance data, and total cases, all point to one conclusion: Florida won’t see a New York City-like crisis with tens of thousands of deaths after all, despite the media wishing it were so.
But forget New York City. Carve it out completely, so that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo can compete with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a no-holds-barred campaign for President in 2024 without being burdened by the more than 22,800 deaths that city has (so far) experienced at the peak of the crisis. That still leaves Cuomo, sans the Big Apple, with roughly 9,300 deaths on his hands. All of Florida, by comparison, is currently at 5,519 deaths, and that includes motorcycle accident victims who also tested positive for coronavirus.
The point here isn’t to celebrate the fact that Florida has “only” a fraction of New York state’s deaths, but to point out what should be obvious to anyone with a rational mind: Florida is not even close to experiencing what New York (state or city, take your pick) went through.
Deaths in the Sunshine State may continue to rise for the next few weeks, as the virus spreads to the state’s older, more vulnerable population. On the sobering side, hospitalizations are either trending up this week or, at best, flattening, which means at least a few more deaths aren’t far behind. But there’s no chance that we will catch New York’s grand total of 33,000 deaths without a brand-new and unprecedented surge in cases.
That’s not likely in the near future, based on all available evidence which strongly suggests we’re on the way back down already. Here’s a look at the leading indicators for what we can expect in the weeks ahead:
Test Positivity Rates
Florida peaked in early July. We’re now seeing a slight downtick in positive test rates, though it’s still hovering above 15 percent of all tests:
ER Visit Symptoms
The state monitors the reasons given by patients reporting to an emergency room or “Emergency Department” (ED). This kind of tracking gives an early warning to health managers to help identify hotspots around the state and identify larger trends overall. What we’re seeing is obvious: Florida’s second wave of serious symptoms peaked more than a week ago, and it wasn’t even as bad as the first wave back in March when COVID-19 and the flu were making the rounds at the same time.
COVID-19 Hospitalization and Case Fatality Rates
Both hospitalization and death rates are significantly lower than ever before, as more and more younger people caught the virus but never experienced serious complications:
New Infections Trendline
Without identifying new cases of COVID-19, it gets tougher to blame the virus for hospitalizations and deaths. Even though we saw a slight uptick in cases today versus yesterday, that’s almost certainly due to the way weekends impact test reporting in Florida. Focus on the overall trend in the chart below, which compares new cases with daily testing volume. It should be clear the virus is, once again, losing steam:
If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s the 7-day moving average trendline, which removes the peaks and valleys due to differences in reporting between weekends and weekdays to give a clearer indication of the direction we’re headed. It also puts hospital admissions and deaths into perspective. All three values (infections, hospitalizations and deaths) are to scale:
Florida Hospital Bed Capacity
The latest update shows Florida still has 13,120 unoccupied hospital beds and 983 unoccupied ICU beds. That’s 22 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The state is actively managing this number by shutting down elective surgeries which keeps beds open for COVID-19 cases, plus, Florida has the ability to “surge” more beds, including ICU beds, on an as-needed basis.
In short, there is no hospital bed crisis, despite a near non-stop flow of headlines claiming the opposite for the past month. The situation is well in hand and being actively managed by local and state public health officials and the hospitals themselves.
Keep in mind, too, that hospital resource usage was the initial reason for the lockdown in the first place. While hospital workers in some communities are definitely under pressure to deal with the outbreaks in their community, the overall statewide picture is not one of crisis and shortage, it is one of calm, collected, and practiced management of available resources. Thanks to decades of hurricanes – regardless of which political party the governor belongs to – the state’s emergency planners are very, very good at logistics and supply management. It’s one of the primary reasons the agency exists.
With the exception of hospitalizations and deaths, the data above are all leading indicators for what we can expect in the weeks ahead. The virus is more prevalent in Florida than ever before, and will continue to spread. Younger adults are largely responsible for the renewed surge, which is now making its way through older Floridians, who are going to the hospital at greater rates than before. That trend will likely continue through the next several weeks, leading to more sensational headlines and panicked (or opportunistic) politicians attempting to exploit tragedies for political advantage.
Ignore them all.
By this time next month, we are likely to be far down the back slope of this mountain of new cases, which means, inevitably, that hospitalizations and deaths will also fall.
In the meantime, take precautions to protect yourself and others. The virus is still out there, and it’s very dangerous to some people. But don’t fall victim to the sensational national media headlines that are seemingly desperate to paint a picture of chaos by reporting “spikes,” and “surges” of new cases, “record” deaths, and hospitals that look like “war zones.”
The fact of the matter is that Florida’s efforts to contain the virus – without a full-blown lockdown – appear to be working.