ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida's percent positivity rate continues to hover near and even below 5 percent, an improvement from earlier in the pandemic.
However, the state is continuing to see recent spikes in deaths that experts predicted would follow an earlier uptick in cases.
The Florida Department of Health receives lab test results each day. On Saturday, it reported 2,795 new COVID-19 cases for Sept. 25, pushing the state's overall total to 698,682 cases since the pandemic began.
On Sept. 1, the state said a recent backlog of test results from Quest Diagnostics made Aug. 31's number of cases higher. The nearly 75,000 test results from the lab were at least two weeks old, with some dating back to April. You can read about how those tests impact the state's numbers here.
The United States passed 6 million total coronavirus cases on Aug. 31, the highest recorded number in the world, according to the Associated Press. That's a little more than three weeks after the country surpassed 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Aug. 9. According to Johns Hopkins University, the countries with the next highest confirmed cases are India with 5.5 million and Brazil with 4.5 million, as of Sept. 22.
For context, Brazil has a total population of 207.3 million and India has a total population of 1.2 billion, according to the CIA.
On July 25, Florida surpassed New York in the number of total coronavirus cases confirmed since March. That day's report from the Florida Department health reported 414,511 total cases. New York had reported 411,200 confirmed cases.
In late August, Florida became the second state to cross the 600,000 reported COVID-19 cases mark. As of Sept. 23, California has had more than 793,000 cases. Texas has more than 741,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
In July, the state did not report a new daily total below 6,000. Some good news, however – between July 25 and Sept. 25, reported coronavirus cases for the state remained under 10,000.
Still, the coronavirus situation in Florida has made national headlines and forced the state to suspend drinking at bars to combat the spread of the virus. At least two bars have had their alcohol licenses suspended for violating state guidelines.
However, as of Sept. 14, bars across the state have been allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Only bars in Miami-Dade and Broward counties must remain closed for the time being.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly suggested he doesn't plan to alter the state's reopening plan or enact a statewide face mask mandate, cities and counties have implemented new mask rules in an effort to curb the spread. Here's a breakdown of where you have to wear one around Tampa Bay.
On Sept. 25, Gov. DeSantis announced the state would be transitioning into Phase Three of reopening. The governor says he will sign an order that guarantees restaurants the right to operate and lifts state-level capacity restrictions on them. You can read more about what that means here.
Back in mid-June, the state began battling a new outbreak since Phase Two of reopening began on June 5, with one study at the time even saying it could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
New cases aside, how are we truly doing in Florida?
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in March there’s a pattern this virus follows: a rise in new cases first, then hospitalizations, followed by a bump in ICU visits and then, weeks later, we could experience a climb in deaths.
So, let’s see how our state is doing in each of those steps.
Florida is testing more people now than when the pandemic began.
When it comes to testing, Saturday's report showed 72,903 test results were turned in from labs on Sept. 25. Of those tests, 4.15 percent were positive for the virus.
It's important to note that the percent positivity rate doesn't tell the whole story. It's just one metric. Here's Dr. Jill Roberts with the USF College of Public Health explaining how to process that data.
Still, it's one data point that can help us understand the bigger picture.
Essentially, out of every 100 people tested recently in Florida, about 4-5 were infected, based on the latest day's test results.
If you consider our 14-day moving average, as pictured in the chart below, the percentage of people testing positive has been declining steadily after climbing rapidly last month.
By the way, the World Health Organization has recommended a state consistently test at a positive rate of 5 percent or lower for a 14-day span to continue reopening.
That didn't happen in June when the state moved to the next phase of reopening. In all of July, the state did not report a positivity rate that wasn't at least double what the WHO recommends for reopening. Since Aug. 12, the state hasn't seen a percent positive rate higher than 10 percent and has been below 6 percent since Sept. 3.
As mentioned earlier, it dipped below 5 percent on Aug. 21 for the first time since mid-June. And, it then dipped back below again on Aug. 28. Most recently, the state dipped below 4 percent on Sept. 13, the lowest since early June.
We should note that if you look at the state's dashboard for new coronavirus cases, some of the numbers look different than ours – at least for daily new cases. That's because the state is only tracking Florida residents, not total cases in Florida, on its dashboard. It only tracks the latter within its daily report. And, the chart on the state's website is regularly being revised to say a case happened on one day instead of another.
For consistency, we've decided to track total cases reported each day. Those totals don't change, so it's our most consistent way of measuring trends, even if the state moves data around on its dashboard. For transparency's sake, here's a direct link to the state's data if you'd like to examine Florida's numbers for yourself.
Hospitalizations and ICU bed availability
New cases have dropped significantly in recent months, but what about hospitalizations?
Tracking hospitalizations got easier on July 10 when the Agency for Health Care Administration began publishing a spreadsheet with the number of people currently checked-in for coronavirus-related complications in Florida. The data only includes people whose "primary diagnosis" was COVID-19.
As of 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2,099 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as their primary diagnosis statewide, and 475 of them were in the Tampa Bay area. Those numbers are frequently updated, and you can click here for the most recent data, which is also broken down by county.
Since the pandemic began, the state confirms a total of 43,469 residents were hospitalized at some point during their illness.
The Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) also updates total hospital bed and ICU availability by county.
Click here for a breakdown of adult and pediatric ICU bed availability by county. You can also check ICU availability by the hospital.
Hospitalizations around Tampa Bay and total staffed hospital bed capacity status:
**Data as of 12:15 p.m. Sept. 26
- 24 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 66 of 448 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 0 COVID-19 hospitalization
- 36 of 55 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 0 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 1 of 25 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 254 of 735 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 19 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 55 of 259 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 141 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 572 of 3,717 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 137 of 743 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 38 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 231 of 1,355 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 98 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 932 of 3,166 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 84 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 400 of 1,642 total staffed hospital beds are available
- 31 COVID-19 hospitalizations
- 259 of 1,268 total staffed hospital beds are available
Overall in Florida, 14,022 people have died after being infected with the coronavirus. If you're wondering why that's different from the state's dashboard, it's because Florida doesn't count the 168 non-resident deaths who have been reported in the state on its dashboard. It only does so within the official daily report. We've combined those numbers together to provide one total.
The state lists deaths on its dashboard by the date of death, not the day it’s reported, so the dashboard is constantly in flux. Our graph below is based on the day the state confirmed deaths to offer a different perspective.
For example, the Florida Department of Health reported 202 new resident deaths when we checked on Wednesday, but the dashboard for Tuesday, Sept. 22 (when that data would have been gathered) only lists five.
However, the state recently added a section to its daily report (on page 5) that shows deaths by date of death. This data has been reported daily on Florida's COVID-19 dashboard.
The graph for deaths by date of death is subject to change, though, because the information reported to the state can be delayed up to two weeks. So, for consistency, our charts have stuck to new deaths added by the date they were added. For transparency, you can always reference the state's data here.
Data compiled based on state information and The COVID Tracking Project suggest our daily deaths had remained relatively consistent – from a trend standpoint – until about early July, at which time we began to see a noticeable climb in newly-reported deaths. The 14-day moving average has since begun to decline again.
Florida on Aug. 11 again broke its own record for new deaths in a single day's report. Counting Floridians and non-residents, 277 is the highest number of new deaths reported by the state in a day.
Recently, Florida confirmed its youngest COVID-19-related death since the pandemic began – a 6-year-old from Hillsborough County.
One of the most common questions we get asked is: How many people have recovered from COVID-19 in Florida?
The truth is, it's hard to say.
Two of our reporters, Angelina Salcedo and Josh Sidorowicz, have tried to get answers for you. But, they've run into challenges.
First, there's no clear definition of what constitutes recovery, which makes it hard to track.
"It can be that they're symptom-free, but they may still be shedding virus and so they still need to be isolated. There are people who we don't know what the recovery period is, so recovery can mean many things. It's not defined clearly," said Dr. Janice Zgibor with the University of South Florida Public Health.
While some states report recoveries, Florida does not.
"I think it's difficult to record who is recovered because of all of the definitions of recovered. Also, logistically, you would have to follow every positive case to determine when they've met either the time criteria or the symptom criteria," Zgibor said.
You may have seen recovery numbers from Johns Hopkins University, but those are actually just estimates. The U.S. doesn't have a uniform way of reporting recoveries. That's partly because resources need to stay focused on contact tracing and testing.
Even Johns Hopkins says its numbers shouldn't be taken at face value.
“Recovered cases outside China are estimates based on local media reports," Douglas Donovan, a spokesman at John Hopkins, told 10 Tampa Bay in April. "And may be substantially lower than the true number.”
The state-by-state patchwork of reporting recoveries -- with some doing so and some not -- makes it even harder for Johns Hopkins to estimate the numbers.
10 Tampa Bay has repeatedly reached out to the Florida Department of Health since the outbreak started to try and get recovery numbers.
We've received a similar response each time. The health department says they're working on a way to get that data.
The hope is that with hospitals better equipped to handle the pandemic, an abundance of available ventilators and an advancement in medicine, deaths can be prevented.
The age of those testing positive could play a factor in minimizing lives lost, as well.
If you'd like to review any of the data directly, for yourself, click here to visit the state health department website.