Epidemiologist says it’s ‘extremely challenging’ to paint a full picture of COVID-19 cases

At-home tests are usually not reported to hospitals, doctors’ offices

FILE (David Dermer, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the county, there’s concern among health officials about how to accurately determine how fast the latest variant is spreading.

Florida experienced a substantial increase in reported COVID-19 infections since last week with 18,761 new cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. That number is in addition to cases of the flu and RSV.

That’s up from the reported 12,155 cases the week before.

BAR CHART: The latest number of coronavirus cases in the state

What makes COVID-19 different from the flu and RSV, however, is that a large majority of the public that contracts the virus doesn’t report it to a hospital or a doctor’s office and instead isolates at home until the virus runs its course.

In Northeast Florida, St. Johns County currently has the highest of newly reported cases with more than 80 cases per 100,000 people last week, St. Johns County also has the highest positivity rate in the state as well.

Epidemiologist Jonathan Kantor said these new statistics give them some insight into how fast the virus is spreading; however, they don’t paint a full picture. With so many people testing positive for COVID-19 at home and then not needing medical treatment, Kantor said it’s difficult for federal health officials to make recommendations.

“I think in terms of making public health decisions, public health determination, it’s extremely challenging because as a nation, worldwide, we really don’t have a great snapshot of where things stand in terms of COVID infections. If you said to me, objectively, ‘do you know how many people are infected with COVID?’ Right now, at this time, compared to how many people were infected with COVID, 365 days ago? The answer would be I really don’t,” Kantor said.

According to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently a little more than 13,000 adults in Florida hospitals with confirmed cases of the virus.

Before last week, the hospitalization rate hadn’t been that high since early October.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.