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Epidemiologist says data can be misleading and coronavirus is spreading in Florida

Dr. Jill Roberts, with the University of South Florida, warns against relying on the numbers too much to track virus spread.

TAMPA, Fla. — There are so many numbers so what does it all mean?

The Florida Department of Health has a coronavirus dashboard filled with charts and graphs. They also send out daily information with county-by-county breakdowns and detailed surveillance data 

All those numbers are confusing. Even doctors say all these numbers can be deceptive.

The cases are up but on Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that's because we're doing more testing.

"Now we have widespread testing. We're doing three times as many tests a day now than we did at the end of March," said DeSantis.

However, even looking at the percentage of positive cases to the number of tests doesn't tell the whole story because we test a different number of Floridians on any given day.

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Dr. Jill Roberts, an epidemiologist with the University of South Florida College of Public Health said, "That percentage can be really misleading. From day to day we can actually compare percents if only we've tested the same number of people on every single day so if I test 1,000 people today and 1,000 people tomorrow then we could actually compare those percentages."

One thing we do know -- coronavirus is spreading in the state of Florida.

"Continue to wear those masks, continue to keep social distancing. Be willing to work with individuals because if you are somebody that became sick, obviously take care of yourself but keep in mind who you were in contact with so people can be isolated and quarantined," added Roberts.

On Monday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sent 10 Tampa Bay this statement:

"I am concerned about the percentage of positive cases of COVID-19 we are seeing in Pinellas County and St. Pete. I am proud of the establishments and residents who are doing the right thing and taking all necessary precautions. However, I do believe it is time to look at further restricting the state's current order. I have been and will continue to work closely with county officials as I believe a countywide approach, either to masks or other restrictions, would be most effective in containing this virus here locally."

In a meeting with Hillsborough County leaders, Dr. Douglas Holt, the Director of the Hillsborough County Health Department said, "Currently I don't believe you need to retreat but we need to continue to get some cooperation. It's not about shutting us down cause I can't accept that our community won't pull together and reduce this transmission."

We reached out to all county health departments in Tampa Bay to see if they plan on recommending stricter guidelines.

So far we've heard back from Hillsborough, Manatee and Pasco counties.

RELATED: Ousted Florida coronavirus dashboard manager makes her own dashboard

Hillsborough County:

The EPG allows you to hear things more Hillsborough-focused. Remember, DOH is a state agency and we all work together on the same mission.

The increase in number of positive cases is a result of Florida’s greatly expanded efforts in testing for COVID-19.

The state continues to expand its testing capacity and accessibility, to ensure that anyone who needs a COVID-19 test, gets a test. The Department of Health is working to ensure that the underserved communities have access to testing. As more testing is done, there will be an increase of positive cases of COVID-19. However, it’s important to note that while testing has increased, the overall positivity rate remains low. As of June 14, the positivity rate was approximately 5.4%.

The number of individuals testing positive for COVID has increased but that number should not be viewed in a vacuum.  Firstly, Florida is actively searching for residents who may test positive for this virus which is why we have increased the number of testing sites.  Currently, we have thirty drive-thru and walk-in test sites throughout the state, at no charge to the individual, in areas that range from urban to rural communities in an effort to increase accessibility.  Testing is not mandatory.  Just last week, for example, Home Depot launched a few testing sites, some located in south Florida. Governor DeSantis has been adamant that increased testing provides important data needed to make the best decisions related to public health.  We fully anticipate that the success of this effort to seek out COVID positive individuals will be seen in higher numbers which, if treated early, can be beneficial not only in treating the patient but helping control the spread of the virus.   

It is also important to measure the rise of COVID positive cases with the availability of ICU beds, ventilators, and the number of deceased in determining the impact of this pandemic in Florida.  This week we have seen the number of deaths decrease while the number of available ICU beds and ventilators remains steady. This could mean that individuals who are testing positive for COVID do not have underlying health issues, and/or we are getting better at treating this disease.

Manatee County said this:

The increase in number of positive cases is a result of Florida’s greatly expanded efforts in testing for COVID-19.

The state continues to expand its testing capacity and accessibility, to ensure that anyone who needs a COVID-19 test, gets a test. The Department of Health is working to ensure that the under served communities have access to testing. As more testing is done, there will be an increase of positive cases of COVID-19. However, it’s important to note that while testing has increased, the overall positivity rate remains low. As of June 14, the positivity rate was approximately 5.4 percent.

The number of individuals testing positive for COVID has increased but that number should not be viewed in a vacuum.  Firstly, Florida is actively searching for residents who may test positive for this virus which is why we have increased the number of testing sites.  Currently, we have thirty drive-thru and walk-in test sites throughout the state, at no charge to the individual, in areas that range from urban to rural communities in an effort to increase accessibility.  Testing is not mandatory.  Just last week, for example, Home Depot launched a few testing sites, some located in south Florida. Governor DeSantis has been adamant that increased testing provides important data needed to make the best decisions related to public health.  We fully anticipate that the success of this effort to seek out COVID positive individuals will be seen in higher numbers which, if treated early, can be beneficial not only in treating the patient but helping control the spread of the virus.    

It is also important to measure the rise of COVID positive cases with the availability of ICU beds, ventilators, and the number of deceased in determining the impact of this pandemic in Florida.  This week we have seen the number of deaths decrease while the number of available ICU beds and ventilators remains steady. This could mean that individuals who are testing positive for COVID do not have underlying health issues, and/or we are getting better at treating this disease.

Pasco County said this:

The increase in number of positive cases is a result of Florida’s greatly expanded efforts in testing for COVID-19. 

The state continues to expand its testing capacity and accessibility, to ensure that anyone who needs a COVID-19 test, gets a test. The Department of Health is working to ensure that the underserved communities have access to testing. As more testing is done, there will be an increase of positive cases of COVID-19. However, it’s important to note that while testing has increased, the overall positivity rate remains low. As of June 14, the positivity rate was approximately 5.4%.

We continue to follow CDC guidelines and encourage everyone to practice preventative measures such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, disinfecting of frequently used surfaces and wearing face coverings in public settings. 

We monitor the numbers daily.

At this time, Pasco County has the appropriate and necessary resources for the current demand. Should the need arise for additional support, we will reassess and communicate with our local and state partners. 

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