JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the state still reeling from Florida setting a national record for a one day increase in coronavirus cases on Sunday and another 12,000 cases identified by the state Department of Public Health on Monday, Gov. Ron Desantis’ press secretary pointed to a recent decline in the state’s positivity rate of tests as a hopeful sign.
“Florida COVID positive cases declined for a third day in a row to 11.25%,” press secretary Helen Ferre tweeted on Sunday.
Florida has been testing more people each day than ever before -- more than 60,000 daily four out of the last five days -- which some tie to the increase in cases. But what experts look at to assess the level of community spread is the positivity rate of those tests -- the number of cases vs. the number of tests taken.
The positivity rate was 11.5% on Monday and has averaged above 10% for three weeks -- so more than one of every 10 people tested has the virus. The rate peaked last Wednesday above 18%, so it has been coming down for a few days.
We asked a local epidemiologist Jonathan Kantor to learn the true significance of the positivity rate decline.
″I think we that we are at an interesting point in time when we are treating a positivity rate of over 11% as a success story,” Kantor said. “Keep in mind that is a huge number. That is a very high positivity rate. If you look at the numbers we are going for in terms of what we are targeting, typically under 5% is what you really want to have. So having the rate north of 11%, sure it’s better than the 20% last week, but, again, it’s nothing to write home about; nothing to have a party about.”
Kantor said one of the most important things to consider is the number of Floridians out of those being diagnosed each day that might soon need medical assistance. The main reason for the government shutdown in March was to protect the state’s hospitals from being overwhelmed.
″Having 15,000 more people or 12,000 today -- more people who got the coronavirus translates into a big, big problem because it’s could take a few weeks for those people to become symptomatic,” Kantor said. “And it’s going to take them a couple weeks more to become really sick, if they are going to become sick, and what is our hospital system going to look like at that point. Are we going to have the capacity to treat these people the way they need to be treated, keeping in mind that ICU’s are full with people 25 to 25 years old?”
The southeast Florida counties which have been hard-hit since the beginning of the pandemic continue to see the highest growth of recent cases. Miami-Dade County’s positivity rate has been running close to 25%, and their ICU beds are filling up. The state has authorized an emergency expansion of capacity and sent 100 additional nurses to help.
Greater Jacksonville bed capacity is shrinking as cases and corresponding illnesses increase, but only Clay County has faced a critical shortage of ICU beds in recent days.