DeSantis: ER visits better metric in gauging COVID-19’s spread, severity

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis

The Center Square – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly stressed in April and May that the positivity rate of mass COVID-19 tests was a better way to gauge how Florida was faring in containing COVID-19 than positive case totals.

On Tuesday, with the state in a six-week surge of the disease, the governor offered emergency room visits as a better metric to gauge the spread and severity of the disease.

DeSantis acknowledged the flip during a roundtable, when he was asked about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that schools not reopen until positivity rates fall to 5 percent or below.

“I was religiously hyping positivity in March, April, May, because I was like, you know what, this is an asymptomatic illness largely for most people,” he said. “If you go back, I can probably find you examples of me in May talking about positivity is really important. I’m not saying it’s not something you would never consider ever, but I think we’ve understood some of the limitations.”

Among reasons for diminishing the importance of positivity rates is recent disclosures some private labs were reporting only positive results, raising questions about accuracy, DeSantis said.

Other labs were reporting results in “data dumps” days, if not weeks, after receiving tests, raising questions about essentially obsolete data.

These variations make the positivity rate metric untrustworthy, DeSantis said, especially if used to determine when schools are safe to reopen.

“I’d be very cautious of tying a child’s future to the efficacy of some private lab dumping the results into a system,” he said.

The state’s positivity rate was 13.2 percent Tuesday, according to the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 dashboard, but that is a percentage of 3.79 million tests in the state since March.

On a daily basis, the statewide positivity rate has descended in recent days. Saturday’s positivity rate was 9.3 percent, and Sunday’s was 9.1 percent. As of Tuesday, the seven-day positivity rate average was 10.7 percent.

Emergency room visits, DeSantis said, are the better indicator because they show the real severity and spread of the disease.

That change in perspective makes things appear better for his campaign to reopen schools with full services this month, DeSantis acknowledged, but he said the numbers speak for themselves.

“For a state this big, [emergency department] visits just flat, flat, flat beginning of June,” he said. “Then as we got into that mid part of June, we started to see the [emergency department] visits going up. The testing wasn’t even capturing that at that time, because the testing, these are seven-day turnarounds sometimes by the time they put that into the system.”

DOH documents admittances, but not emergency room visits in daily reports. The DOH COVID-19 dashboard shows weekly totals of ER visits for symptoms related to COVID-19 and the flu.

ER visits for COVID-19 symptoms peaked at 15,900 the first week of July. For the week that began July 26 and ended Aug. 1, ER visits fell to 6,937.

DeSantis reiterated children are less susceptible to the disease and child care operations that remained open during the shutdown did not cause family members and others to get ill.

The governor repeated his debated contention that children are less likely to spread COVID-19 and cited recent studies that said reopening schools won’t spread the disease.

“Sweden and Norway put out a joint statement recently saying Norway shut down schools. Sweden didn’t. Guess what? Sweden was right,” DeSantis said. “It did not increase the spread in the community.”

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