State, local officials want more COVID-19 data

Nikki Fried, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Nikki Fried, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

State and local officials are asking the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) to deliver more COVID-19 data on a daily basis so they can make informed decisions based on rapidly changing statistics.

Residents, policy makers and media in Alachua County who once had access to daily COVID-19 data broken down by county and zip codes are now given access to state data on a weekly basis as Florida has become the pandemic epicenter.

In March 2020, the Florida Department of Health launched a COVID-19 case dashboard in an effort to provide transparency during the pandemic. Last month the state announced that it would release COVID-19 data on a weekly basis, citing the low case amount, an increase in vaccination rates and a 5 percent positivity rate.

Paul Myers, administrator for FDOH in Alachua County, announced to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on June 22 that the FDOH would be moving to weekly reports.

“We’ve gone from a need to know to a want to know,” Myers said at that meeting, where he also delivered statistics such as a June 11 to 17 positivity rate of 2 percent and zero cases of the delta variant in Alachua County.

“If you ever need anything, you know how to get a hold of me, and I will certainly share data with the board and others as appropriate as we move forward,” Myers said.

As of June 21, Myers reported there were 25,358 cases, 154 UK variant cases, a 13 percent overall positivity, and 291 deaths.

He said the declining trends for COVID-19 were expected for a “typical respiratory pandemic” and announced that Alachua County was “at the tail end of this thing” because “all numbers were going down.”

Flash forward to the FDOH “Weekly Situation Report: State Overview” for July 23 to July 29. Alachua County reported 1,082 new cases and a 14.6 percent positivity rate.

According to the CDC tracker report, for the time period of July 26 to Aug. 2 at 6 a.m., new hospital admissions for COVID-19 in Alachua County totaled 252. Meanwhile, the percent of hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients is 14.95, up 4.64 percent from July 26, and the percent of ICU beds used for COVID-19 patients is now 18.34 percent, up 7.26 percent from July 26.

On Sunday, Nikki Fried, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who is running for Florida governor in 2022, released a video on Facebook demanding that the state be more transparent and provide daily COVID-19 reports.

In that briefing, Fried said that the 21,683 cases reported on July 31 broke the record for Florida cases reported in a single day.

“The highest number of all daily cases in Florida since the pandemic began,” Fried said, adding that on Sunday 108 people in Florida died from COVID-19. “The surge will impact every single one of us.” 

Fried then announced that her office has added a link to the daily COVID-19 report from the CDC to the Agriculture and Consumer Services website.

Fried called on FDOH “to resume daily reporting with real time updates so that local governments, businesses, individuals are armed with that information needed to take appropriate action needed to protect their communities, their employees, their customers and their families.”

Ken Cornell, chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, agrees and wants more data added to COVID-19 reports, such as how many COVID-19 cases and deaths are happening to fully vaccinated residents.

Cornell would like to have daily reports added back into Alachua County’s COVID-19 dashboard, which resumed in a weekly capacity last week.

Cornell said on Monday that he has been communicating with local hospitals to try to add data to the county dashboard. He said he doesn’t need daily ICU capacity numbers, but he would like to know daily beds and ICU units occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“At the very least, we need to know how many folks are in the hospital for COVID and how many are in the ICU, and how many deaths are caused by COVID,” Cornell said.

Mark Sexton, the county’s communications and legislative affairs director, has been reaching out to the FDOH and local hospitals to try to make that happen.

“We have requested we go back to a daily report,” Sexton said. “We have communicated to the health department to release fatalities, hospitalization details and a breakdown of vaccinated versus unvaccinated when it comes to positives and patient fatalities.”

Sexton said he is receiving phone calls and emails from citizens who wish the county was releasing that kind of information.

“We miss the daily reports and the other information that used to be on the dashboard,” he said. 

The BOCC has added a presentation on the state of COVID-19 in Alachua County to its Tuesday special budget meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. An FDOH representative will make the presentation as Myers is on vacation, Cornell said.

Outside of FDOH and CDC reports on COVID-19, local hospitals have been holding press conferences and releasing statements to make sure that the public is aware of the rapidly evolving trends.

On July 30, UF Health CEO Ed Jimenez discussed the COVID-19 surge in a video release on YouTube and shared on social media.

“It’d been many months since we’ve done a video,” Jimenez said as he shared that there were 116 COVID-19 patients at UF Health and that the all-time high happened in January with 150 patients.

“It’s a dramatic escalation in the last four weeks,” he said. “It’s a trajectory that is alarming.”

Jimenez said all emergency department staff is now wearing N-95 masks and that the vast majority of COVID-19 patients that have been admitted are not vaccinated.

“We all have a role to play,” Jimenez said, urging people to be 100 percent vigilant about masking indoors. “We’re going to try to work through this together.” 

Jimenez called on the public to trust UF Health professionals. 

“We have great confidence in education that students receive at the University of Florida,” he said. “We have great confidence in the researchers at the University of Florida. Similarly, you should have great confidence in the scientists that believe vaccination is important.” 

UF Health CEO Ed Jimenez
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