Making sense of recent rise in coronavirus cases

What the daily data really means in how we're dealing with the pandemic

Berto Cortez, a CVS pharmacy technician, prepares to work in a coronavirus testing area set up by CVS. (Ross D. Franklin, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the number of cases of COVID-19 began rising in Florida and more than a dozen other states earlier this month, national, state and city leaders were quick to say we’re seeing more cases because we’re doing more testing.

President Donald Trump even told his supporters at a rally in Tulsa: “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, actually.”

While Trump’s staff later said he was joking, Trump told reporters Tuesday, “I don’t kid.”

Vice President Mike Pence recently told governors to cite increased testing as the reason for the growth in cases and continue encouraging people, “with the news that we are safely reopening the country.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told a U.S. House committee Tuesday that more testing doesn’t explain the higher percentage of positive results and that the nation will be “more testing, not less” to get a handle on outbreaks in Florida and elsewhere.

According to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, there are three important metrics for understanding the reach and severity of COVID-19 in a given area: number of new daily cases, tests per 100,000 people (testing rate), and the percentage of tests that are positive (positivity rate).

“As testing capacity increases, considering confirmed new cases, testing rates and percent positivity together gives us a fuller picture of COVID-19 in a particular state or region,” according to its website. “The (World Health Organization) has said that in countries that have conducted extensive testing for COVID-19, should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.”

  1. Florida’s number of new cases has increased dramatically in June, averaging more than 3,000 each day for the last week.
  2. Florida has been testing an average of more than 25,000 people each day, but that number is down from its peak of over 40,000 in the third week of May.
  3. Florida’s positivity rate has also increased recently. While not as high as it was when testing was limited to only those with confirmed symptoms early on in the pandemic, the rolling average is above 10% for the first time in more than two months.

Across the United States, the positivity rate of coronavirus testing is running at just under 5%, down from a peak of 21% in early April. But there is concern in some states, including Arizona, at 17%; Alabama, at 12%; Florida, at 10%; Texas, at 9%; and Georgia, at 8%.

Duval County, which was praised early on for maintaining a positivity rate below 4% -- much lower than the state average -- has seen its rate rise steadily in the last 10 days and it now its moving average is approaching the state’s.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the recent trend at a Wednesday news conference.

“As you get into the second week of June, you start to see some more cases pop up,” DeSantis said. “And then, by the third week of June, you know, you start to see more widespread transmission.”

DeSantis is trying to deal with the increase by reminding people to follow the same practices that helped control the spread before the state began reopening its economy: social distancing and wearing masks. The state is also stepping up monitoring of the guidelines set up in his Phase 1 and Phase 2 reopening orders -- and potential sanctioning of businesses that are not complying.