Florida COVID-19 reality check: virus still lingering, some precautions still advised

by | May 7, 2020

During the past week following Governor Ron DeSantis’s announcement of “Phase One” of his plan to re-open the state, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations seem to have stagnated again. The flat number of cases, while still much better than a growing number, could mean the governor’s phased plan for relaxing restrictions may remain in place for longer than hoped, and Floridians should continue to take some precautions to protect themselves from the disease.

Here’s a quick look at where Florida’s case data is trending. The chart below is a little busy, so here’s a quick primer: The overall trendline for new cases (thin red line) is still headed in the right direction – arching back down, but the spiky uptick in daily new cases over the past week (darker red, jagged line) may mean the trendline will start to tail upward again soon. On the bright side, the higher number of infections is consistent with another significant surge in testing (light blue bars). Don’t let anyone tell you we need more tests. We’ve got plenty, and most come back negative. More on that in a moment:

So, as the chart shows, more tests have unsurprisingly uncovered more cases of coronavirus. We can choose to be alarmed about this, or we can take solace in the fact that hundreds of thousands of Florida residents may have already had the illness, and that the overwhelming vast majority of us will not notice unless we are tested. This little nugget is from the April 24th edition of the less-than-reliable Miami Herald, but in this case, since it’s actually good news and not scaremongering, we can likely believe them:

About 6 percent of Miami-Dade’s population — about 165,000 residents — have antibodies indicating a past infection by the novel coronavirus, dwarfing the state health department’s tally of about 10,600 (Miami Dade) cases, according to preliminary study results announced by University of Miami researchers Friday.

Not only does that number dwarf the number of confirmed cases in Miami Dade county, it dwarfs the statewide total, which as of tonight is approaching 40,000 cases. The point is that the more we test, the more we’re going to find new cases of COVID-19, especially now that we’re returning selected parts of the economy to normal.

Let’s take a quick look at the overall trend in the percentage of new cases as a total of daily tests administered. Remember, some people are arguing that we don’t have enough tests. That’s false. We’re testing between 10,000 and 20,000 people every single day, and fewer than 1-in-10 come back positive. In fact, the percentage of positive tests over time, just as we’d hope to see, is dropping rapidly. We’ve got plenty of tests:

Now let’s take a look at the true measure of how we’re doing: hospitalizations. More than deaths, the hospitalization number is useful because it’s less sensitive to testing quantity in the case of infections, or methodology in the case of classifying cause of death. Either someone with COVID-19 needs to be in the hospital or they don’t. The data is the most reliable metric we have. And what it tells us is that COVID-19 is lingering, but not yet growing again:

As you can see, the state’s hospitalization and death data takes a little break on the weekends, which accounts for the regular dips. The three day break in late April was actually due to a shift in accounting that occured when the state went from twice-per day reporting to once. All the stats that normally would have been reported on Sunday evening got pushed into Monday morning, causing the panicked Miami Herald to proclaim “Florida’s deadliest day.” But no. It was just a reporting anomaly.

Still, the hospitalization numbers don’t seem to be improving much, and we can count on those numbers to grow a bit as we return to more frequent social interaction. Is it cause for panic? No. Governor DeSantis warned us to anticipate the coming increase in cases. But it is cause for everyone to take precautions when you’re out in public, because the virus is definitely still around and still infecting people as much as it ever has.




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