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Pinellas County's COVID-19 positivity rate well below state average

Posted at 11:25 PM, Jul 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 04:41:02-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The positivity rate for the state of Florida has ranged between about 10 and 14% over the last couple of weeks. It’s a number that experts say we should aim to keep under 10%.

While the state hasn’t quite managed to dip below that 10% benchmark, one large Tampa Bay area county has.

For the last several weeks, Pinellas County has kept its percent positivity rate well below 10%. In fact, on Saturday, July 25, Pinellas County’s percent positivity rate is sitting at a mere 5.7%.

This is all coming just over a month after Pinellas County enacted their mask mandate.

“I think that just proves that doing a little bit goes a long way,” said Barry Burton, Pinellas County Administrator.

While the decline can’t be linked directly to the mandate, the numbers are showing promise.

“We’re hopeful that the issue of the masks, people wearing masks more, and people taking this seriously, modifying their behavior, are the contributing factors to us seeing a lower positivity rate,” said Burton.

But just across the bay in Hillsborough County, the numbers aren’t near as low.

“Looking at the total number of tests that have been done in both Hillsborough and Pinellas, normalized for their population, it’s about 15% of the population in Pinellas, and about 14% in Hillsborough, so that’s not really explaining what’s going on here,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished Professor at USF.

Dr. Unnasch says a possible answer for the discrepancy is that Hillsborough County has a greater testing backlog and test results from earlier in July, when cases were higher, might only be coming out now. We do know Hillsborough County residents have been waiting upwards of 10 days or so for test results.

Still, Dr. Unnasch says both counties are showing a positive outlook.

“In Hillsborough County, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of new cases, probably since about July 10… Pinellas is doing about the same. They started to decline around July 18,” said Dr. Unnasch.

Dr. Unnasch has been calculating the virus's reproductive value in each county. He says in order for the virus to continue to spread, one infected person has to spread it to at least one other person.

But in Hillsborough County, that reproductive value is now around 0.62, and in Pinellas County, the reproductive value is now around 0.75. This means that one infected person is not necessarily spreading it to one other person.

“If we continue doing exactly what we’re doing and maintain that through October, I think we could completely defeat this thing, but there are a lot of other things that are going to happen between now and October,” said Dr. Unnasch.

One of those things Dr. Unnasch is referencing is the reopening of schools.

In Pinellas County, they’re hopeful that the downward trend now will help free up some space in the hospitals, just in case cases jump during the school year.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton says Pinellas County hospitals are ready to tackle any kind of surge capacity if it comes to that.