TAMPA, Fl.-- — When the pandemic hit, experts set to work tracking it. The state released daily COVID-19 data. But now, the Florida Department of Health said it’s transitioned to weekly reports.
The department cites increasing vaccinations and decreases in new case positivity rates as the state transitions into the next phase of the COVID-19 response.
The department stated in part, “Infections and disease control is a core function of the Florida Department of Health. The department will continue to adapt and respond to COVID-19 to protect public health statewide.”
Experts also followed the state data, including Jason Salemi, Ph.D. Salemi is an associate professor of epidemiology at USF’s College of Public Health.
“Obviously I’m very thankful to the Department of Health for all the massive amounts of information that they’ve made available either through a series of PDF reports or downloadable electronic files. Every day since DOH has been releasing files I download this information I manipulate the data then I upload it so people can visualize and drill down,” Salemi said.
Now the state's weekly report provides some comprehensive information and an overview, but lacks some granularity, Salemi explained.
“So if we wanted to ask questions like how do certain counties compare in vaccinating certain age groups that’s what I don’t see as possible by looking at this weekly report,” Salemi said.
But he said the weekly reports are still a value, as he and other experts point to seven-day averages in tracking the pandemic.
“So reporting on once a week in that case you’re basically doing almost the same sort of thing it’s just taking a seven-day rolling average. So that won’t really hurt things,” said Thomas Unnasch, Ph.D., a distinguished university professor in USF’s College of Public Health. “The places where it does hurt though is places like where we’re trying to do calculations that where we want them to be pretty nimble like for the reproductive rate that we’ve talked about so much in the past.”
Unnasch explained it can be important to be nimble and respond quickly, pointing to things like variants.
“It’s gonna make our calculations a little less nimble so if we start to see changes like in the reproductive rate where it starts to creep back above one, instead of being able to detect that within a week it’s gonna take almost a month before we’re rally gonna be able to get enough information in there to really detect those changes. So that’s a little bit of a difficult thing I think,” he said.
The Florida Department of Health stated in part, “…As the transition continues, we are shifting from an emergency response to the core function of the Department of Health. As an integrated health care system, we are equipped to continue adapting and responding to COVID-19 to protect public health statewide.”
The department said more than half of Florida's eligible population has been vaccinated and that the state's case positivity has been below 5% for more than three weeks.
“We’re not really out of the woods, yet. I really like to say the numbers are looking really good and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel but you know there are ways we can really go astray here if we let our guard up,” said Unnasch. “So we really want to do what we can to keep our guard up for the next few weeks or months to really make sure that we drive this thing away.”
“I want to make sure just because less data is going to be released that we don’t lose the important messages and continue to be in people’s ear giving them valuable information so they can make evidence-based decisions,” said Salemi.