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Does More Testing In Florida Really Equal More Cases Of COVID-19? Depends On Who You Ask

Some communities and businesses are requiring masks in certain areas as cases of COVID-19 climb around the country.
Some communities and businesses are requiring masks in certain areas as cases of COVID-19 climb around the country.

Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters this week Florida is seeing more positive cases of COVID-19 due to more widespread testing. The same reason has been offered by President Donald Trump as cases spike in other states as well.

DeSantis attributes the record increases in daily coronavirus cases to lots of testing, which now regularly includes people who don’t have symptoms.

He notes high-risk areas are being heavily targeted for tests, like nursing homes, prisons, and migrant worker communities.

“These are folks who are living in close confines, a lot of people together for extended periods of time, and that provides the good venue for the virus to transmit,” DeSantis said.

In April, as the state was moving into Phase 1 of reopening, DeSantis predicted more testing would lead to more positive cases. Now, he’s explaining why Florida’s Phase 2 reopening will continue despite more COVID-19.

“You will see more cases because you’re identifying those subclinical cases that just would not have been tested previously, and I said that, you know, you could see 2000 cases a day in a state this big,” DeSantis said. “It’s just because of how you’re doing the testing.”

“It is not exactly that simple,” says Adrian Barbu, a professor in the statistics department at Florida State University. “Some people are tested multiple times. So if you test the same person multiple times, it’s not like a random sample of the population. Imagine you have only one person, and you’re tested a million times. How is that telling you anything about how many cases are in all the population in Florida?”

Now that cases are spiking around the country, the Policy Lab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a national model that shows Florida may be the next epicenter of the pandemic. The lab’s Dr. David Rubin told WUSF the model does take into account increased testing, as DeSantis suggested.

“Particularly when we see forecasts that have been increasing in several weeks involving multiple surrounding areas, and then are supported by additional data like hospitalizations or an increased test positivity rate,” Rubin said, “I think we have a fairly clear signal of concern for Florida that needs to be addressed.”

Rubin says while some of Florida’s current spike can be attributed to Memorial Day travel, it doesn’t fully account for the jump in cases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees. He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- and the immunologist of record for the U.S. government. He recently told the Wall Street Journal the rise in cases cannot be explained by increased testing.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Gina Jordan reports from Tallahassee for WUSF and WLRN about how state policy affects your life.