Miami pauses reopening as Florida's new coronavirus cases rise

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Posted at 3:58 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 15:58:35-04

Miami, among Florida's most populous cities, won't move into the next phase of reopening because of concern over rising COVID-19 cases, Mayor Francis Suarez announced at a Monday news conference.

Although the majority of the state is in Phase 2 of reopening, rising new coronavirus cases may put a damper on residents' new freedom.

An ABC News analysis of New York Times data found Florida is one of 22 states in which new positive coronavirus cases have increased over the past 14 days. While some states with an increasing number of cases, such as Montana, Hawaii and Alaska, have so few overall infections that their relative rises aren't significant, as of Monday, Florida had reported more than 80,000 positive cases and roughly 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to the state's health department.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's stay-at-home order expired May 4, there were roughly 680 cases being diagnosed each day in the state. As of June 14, Florida's seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 infections, which accounts for fluctuations in the number of cases, was 1,661 per day. On Tuesday, Florida reported a record-high one-day increase of 2,783.

State officials have previously pointed to increased testing as a possible explanation for the influx of new cases.

"Florida is actively searching for COVID-positive individuals to provide immediate treatment and contact tracing to help prevent the broader spread of the disease," a spokesperson from the governor's office told ABC News. "This is evident in the 30 state-operated testing sites throughout Florida that include areas with vulnerable and/or underserved communities. This aggressive testing strategy is proving to be successful and will continue."

A high positivity rate can be a sign that a state is only testing its sickest patients and failing to cast a net wide enough to accurately capture community transmission, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Florida's positivity rate has risen from 3.6% in early May to 4.2% in early June, but it's lower than the 10% positivity threshold experts say states should aim to keep well below. By comparison, South Korea, considered a global leader for its COVID-19 response, never had a positivity rate above 1% or 2%. In New Zealand, which has all but eradicated the virus, the nationwide positivity rate averaged 0.5% from January through May.

A more worrisome sign is that Florida has seen a rise in new hospitalizations in recent weeks, according to an ABC News analysis of public data. That uptick cannot be attributed to more testing.

Data out of Florida has been mired in controversy. The state's coronavirus data scientist was fired over disagreement surrounding Florida's public-facing database, according to the Washington Post. That scientist has since launched her own competing COVID-19 database, which shows higher case counts and deaths than the state's.

While Miami will not be going into Phase 3, there are no plans to roll back the opening or to return to a stay-at-home mandate, either. Instead, the city will hold in place.

“If we continue on this trajectory, we are going to be put in the position where we have to make tough choices,” Suarez said, noting that there had been an uptick in infections among people ages 18 to 35.