More testing adds to COVID-19 total, but Florida’s mortality rate among lowest

Death rate varies with coronavirus disease hitting some small communities hard

A nurse at a drive-up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station exits a tent while holding a bag containing a swab used to take a sample from the nose of a person in their car. (Photo by Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of Floridians tested for COVID-19 surpassed 100,000 on Saturday, second only to New York among states that have tested 1.6 million people in the United States at this point. More testing has been a goal of Gov. Ron DeSantis for weeks and this milestone was a rare piece of good news found in the grim twice-daily data release from the state showing growing numbers of cases and deaths.

It was enough to prompt the Florida Department of Health to issue a news release.

“This is an incredible achievement by any measure, and it is all due to the hard work and great sacrifice by Florida’s thousands of health care workers and first responders who are on the front lines of this fight,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in the release.

Perhaps the better news is that only 10.8% of the people tested in Florida are positive for the disease and the chance of someone in Florida dying from COVID-19 is currently 1.7% -- lower here than in most other places, at least so far. Everyone from President Donald Trump to DeSantis to local leaders is warning that thousands of more Americans will die of this disease in the coming weeks.

The nationwide average of people testing positive is 18.8% and has reached 40.5% in New York.

Washington state, where coronavirus got its first foothold in the U.S. in January and where response and testing began early, the rate of positive tests is 8.6%.

Case fatality rate, percent testing positive among states, nations battling COVID-19

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry last week was encouraged that the testing rate in the city was closer to 7%, suggesting that early adoption of social distancing in our area might have helped keep the infection rate down.

But before we think the worst has passed, keep in mind that less than half of 1 percent of Floridians have been tested and we know that many people with mild symptoms have not been tested and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even asymptomatic people can shed the virus.

And there appears to be little correlation between the percent testing positive, total cases and the number who will die of COVID-19. We can see that from what’s happening in Georgia and within Florida.

Georgia, which reported that ‭26,294‬ residents were tested as of late Saturday -- about one quarter the number tested in Florida -- had 6,383 cases and 208 deaths. With twice the population and nearly four times as many tested, Florida had identified 11,545 cases and 195 deaths by Saturday evening.

Georgia’s overall case fatality rate at this point is 1.7%. For perspective, The Lancet has estimated that the case fatality rate in China was 3.8%

Inside Florida, the most cases (3,890) are reported in Miami-Dade is 19% of the 20,621 tested -- the highest positive percentage in Florida. While the 31 deaths in that county is the highest number in the state, but the county’s death rate per case is below 1%.

In Jacksonville, where only 387 cases were identified out of 6,790 tested so far, nine people have died. That’s a 2.3% fatality rate, which is closer to the global average.

Clay County, which has a similar 7% rate of positives from the 1,007 tested, has had six deaths. That’s an 8.3% fatality per case rate -- similar to the devastating rate in Spain.

While each death is felt by those around them is similar anywhere, these statistics show the impact can be far greater when there is a significant number of fatalities in areas with smaller populations.

Ware County’s three deaths is a relatively small part of more than 200 cases in Georgia, but it represents 16.7% of the positive cases in the county -- a fatality rate that exceeds any state or nation this author can find anywhere.

The impact of 18 cases and three deaths in a county of 36,000 is enormous.

Then there is the crisis unfolding in and around Albany, Georgia.

Dougherty County has only 90,000 people -- less than half the population of Clay County -- has had 685 people test positive and 30 deaths as of Saturday. While that 4.8% fatality per case rate is far from the highest, the high number of critical cases have swamped Albany’s only hospital -- Phoebe Putney Memorial.

While often criticized for responding too slowly, our elected officials, state and federal health leaders are following the mountain of data generated by the coronavirus pandemic and responding with resources. Gov. Brian Kemp has allocated $12 million for more medical staff in Dougherty County and ordered the Georgia National Guard to have a mobile, 20-bed hospital set up in Albany by mid-April.

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