Tampa Bay health officials weigh in on steady increase of state, school-related COVID cases

With school returning, COVID-19 cases in children are a concern
Posted at 5:42 PM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 18:19:11-05

TAMPA, Fla. — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, health officials are keeping a close eye on cases right here in the Tampa Bay area.

New data released by the Florida Department of Health reveals more than 6,200 new COVID-19 cases, the highest level since August.

The state’s positivity rate on Nov. 4 sat at 6.20%, compared to exactly a month before at 3.89%. Data also shows a slow and steady rise in school related cases in the Tampa Bay area.

“I think we’re all really sick of the pandemic, but it’s not going anywhere just yet,” said Dr. Lisa Cronin of Children’s Medical Center.

ABC Action News is compiling data on COVID-19 cases in schools from state and local dashboards. It includes public, private, and charter schools, with a note that the state did not start releasing its data to include charter and private until the end of September.

Comparing school case totals from September and October, Hillsborough County jumped up by more than 200 cases in October. In Pinellas County, October saw nearly 120 more cases, while case totals in both months stayed about the same in Pasco County.

Dr. Cronin says it seems cases are starting to pick up again.

“Within the past week, we’re getting a lot more patients coming in that have had a direct exposure to someone who has tested COVID positive and either they need a test or they are actually symptomatic, and we’re concerned that they may have COVID as well,” said Cronin.

Dr. Cronin says they anticipated an uptick in COVID-19 cases as we got further into fall and winter. She thinks people letting their guard down may be another reason, too. Cronin wants to remind people that COVID-19 can present like anything, so contact your doctor with next steps if you or your child are not feeling well.

“If you assume it’s a sinus infection or you assume it’s an ear infection or you assume its allergies and it turns out to be coronavirus, then more people are going to get exposed unnecessarily, and the longer we keep going in that cycle, the longer this entire thing is going to last,” said Dr. Cronin.

USF Health’s Dr. Marissa Levine says while the trends aren't good, it doesn’t mean they can’t be reversed. Levine believes we’re at a point where we’re seeing accelerated transmission in the community, weeks after changes like school openings and loosened state restrictions.

Dr. Levine says the problem is as cases increase, it can overwhelm contact tracing capabilities too.

“The countries that have done really well have had rapid test turnaround, robust contact tracing, and then people end up in isolation and quarantine with appropriate supports,” said Levine. “When you have all of that functioning really well, you prevent outbreaks.”

As the governor loosened restrictions, Dr. Levine is concerned what happened was people took it as a message to let their guard down. Levine says as there are more cases in the community, that could mean impacts on schools and businesses.

“The more people impacted, the more we actually end up closing down involuntarily without any mandates just because more people are impacted or concern levels go up so people stay away,” said Levine. “Whereas, if we could incorporate these practices which do work, we could actually keep our communities functioning while we’re living with COVID, and that’s what it’s been all about: we have to learn how to live with COVID.”