COVID Update

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Hospitalizations Up

Governor Ron DeSantis is making regular appearances around the state reassuring Floridians that the steep rise in the number of new diagnoses of COVID-19 are nothing to worry about, with limited success. DeSantis has blamed the spike in cases on more testing and young people socializing more as the state opens up.

To be sure, the number of new diagnoses is climbing with the state seeing nearly 50,000 new cases in the past week. (June 24 – 30) The previous week new cases numbered 26,295 (June 17 – 23). Lee County saw 1,899 last week and 831 the previous week.

Many are taking a wait and see approach, knowing that the critical hospital occupancy rates and available ICU beds and ventilators often lag a week or two behind a rise in diagnoses, though the report of three full ICUs in SWFL this week may be a sign of things to come. Lehigh Regional, Cape Coral and a Physicians Regional hospital in Collier County all had full ICUs on two days this week as per the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Lee Health reported on Wednesday that they had 15% of their ICU beds available.

Florida will break the 159,000 mark in new cases this week, but that number will only go up as it’s a cumulative number, so it’s not a good indicator of current disease status. Much better indicators are new cases per day and new deaths per day. Even better for those of us in Lee County, are following Lee County specific data.

Lee County

Lee County has had a total of 5,869 people diagnosed as of July 1. For some reason that is unclear, the state insists on tracking residents separately from non-residents. Living in a vacation destination, people want to know whether the people around them have had a positive test, not where they vote or get their mail.

Going strictly by Lee County resident numbers, the rate of new diagnoses is rising with a bullet. Last week Lee County’s average number of new cases was 118/day. This week it’s 271/day. Local cases in the 33931 zip code area have jumped from a total of 19 a week ago to 28 this week.

Floridians were told to not worry about the number of new cases so long as the hospitalization numbers are good. Our Governor told us to focus on the positivity rate, back when it was consistently under 5% in May and early June. Now it’s hovering around 10% by Florida Department of Health stats, which has been accused of overreporting negative tests by reporting every time the same person tests negative, but only once when they test positive. Some jobs require regular retesting. There are mixed opinions on whether antibody tests should be counted with new diagnoses tests or not. Most data sets do not combine them and no antibody test results are included in stats used here.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows Florida with a 16% positivity rate on a 7-day rolling average. The U.S. positivity rate is 7.1 as of July 2, 2020.

The number of deaths related to COVID-19 have held fairly steady in the 35 – 40/day range during June. According to the CDC, Florida’s death rate is 16.5/100,000 population, less than 29 other states.

Lee Health, which includes four acute care hospitals in Lee County, offers a snapshot each weekday of their occupancy and virus stats. On Wednesday, July 1, they had 245 COVID-19 patients in the hospital – their highest yet. A week ago that was 164. A month ago it was 107. The number of people who require hospital care for COVID-19 is rising. The good news is that the availability of ventilators and ICU beds is holding steady, though the  number of available ICU beds has taken a dip lately and was down to 15% on Wednesday. COVID patients now make up about 20% of the hospital’s census as of Wednesday, the highest it’s been in six weeks.

The number of COVID-19 data tracking websites can be confusing. The CDC, Johns Hopkins, FLDOH dashboard and the Florida Community Coronavirus Dashboard are all worthy of a look, but pay attention to the fine print and details about what information they include or don’t include and why.