Public health experts look at potential impact of increased testing, flu season on COVID-19 data

Posted at 6:12 PM, Nov 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-27 19:19:00-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay area COVID-19 testing sites have been swamped in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The demand for testing is expected to stay high as the pandemic moves into December.

USF’s Dr. Thomas Unnasch explains the influx of people getting a COVID-19 test before the holiday could mean a spike in the number of tests, but also a percent positivity rate possibly going down.

“We’re now getting more of the general population getting tested and not just the people who think they’re sick or think they might’ve been infected,” said Unnasch.

Unnasch says the total number of cases reported may still go up a bit as well.

“We know there are a lot of people out there who are asymptomatic, and if you’re getting tested when you were traveling or when you were coming back just to see 'if I’m still OK,' a certain percentage of those people are not going to be OK,” said Dr. Unnasch.

With this year's flu season upon us, people believing flu symptoms are COVID-19 symptoms could be another complicating factor, again potentially increasing the testing demand and decreasing positivity rates.

“People who have the flu are going to go in and say, ‘Oh my god, I think I’ve got COVID,’ and they’re going to get tested, and they’re going to say, ‘Nope, it’s just influenza,” said Dr. Unnasch.

While lagging, Unnasch points to hospitalizations as possibly the most important indicator we have when looking at the COVID-19 data outlook. As cases across the country continue to rise, Unnasch says it's extra important for people to be as careful as possible and follow health protocols like wearing masks and social distancing over the next few weeks.

“The holiday season has the real potential of just throwing gasoline on that fire and further accelerating the problem,” said Unnasch.

Testing at Raymond James was closed Friday, but it will open up Saturday, Nov. 28 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The site will be closed Sunday and open again Monday morning.

Hillsborough County and Pinellas County have additional information on testing, hours, and locations listed.