TAMPA, Fla. -- As the COVID-19 cases increase, so does the demand for testing.
Local doctors and experts as well as state officials are trying to find that ‘magic’ number of daily tests, and also working to alert the younger people, who are driving the spike, to wear a mask, and social distance.
We’ve seen the charts the last week or two, showing the shift away from the elderly population toward the young people. That’s who doctors and Governor DeSantis say are leading in cases and driving the spread.
“The state has increased total number of cases since June 3rd ninefold,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood, Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.
But it’s where the virus has been spreading that might surprise you.
“If you watch a lot of the protests or saw them on TV, you see a lot of these younger folks are wearing masks,” said Dr. Lockwood.
Not the protests.
“The incidents of COVID-19 among African Americans in Hillsborough County, over the last month, it’s dropped appreciably,” said Dr. Lockwood.
Rather, the places like bars, where you’re seeing people in close quarters with few face coverings. Dr. Lockwood said he believes it was very important for the state to essentially “shut down” the bars last week.
“Now, white teenagers are the biggest risk category,” said Dr. Lockwood.
In a press conference Sunday, Governor DeSantis said state leaders are keeping a close eye on the increasing test positivity rate.
“We have seen the positivity rate increase from the May standby of 4 [percent] or 5 percent, to now, last 6/14 was almost 10 percent, and now, 12 percent. With that, so when you see an increasing positivity, yeah, you're testing more, but you're finding more cases at a faster clip than if that positivity was stable. So that is something that we're really looking at as we're looking at all the different communities,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.
The target range for positivity rate is at 10 percent or below, but over the last several days, it has been above 12 percent in Florida.
The state, and Hillsborough County, are continuing to expand testing. The Raymond James test site is going from two days of testing a week to five starting Tuesday, June 30th.
Still, the next available appointments in the county are nearly 2 weeks out.
“The demand is relatively insatiable,” said Dr. Lockwood.
But the ideal number of tests per day in Hillsborough County is hard to pinpoint.
“It might even be like 8,000 tests per day until we can get over this current dramatic increase in cases,” said Dr. Lockwood.
Dr. Lockwood said currently Hillsborough County is doing about 1,200 to 2,000 tests, three days a week. Expanding the Raymond James test site to five days a week will allow that site to test 1,000 people a day, five days a week, and Dr. Lockwood says that will help, but even that is not enough for right now.
He says a big help would be for private physicians to start writing prescriptions for people to go get tested at places like LabCorp and Quest, and that would alleviate some of the strain at county sites. He is hopeful more physicians will start doing that.
With mask mandates now in place across many Bay area counties and cities, Dr. Lockwood said he hopes to see a drop in COVID-19 cases by July 3rd. But if we don’t see a drop by then, he says we’ve got a big problem.