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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 2,856 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 2,299,596 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 45 coronavirus-related deaths May 19, increasing the statewide death toll to 36,999 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 5.28% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 5.24% and 7.36%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning the number of patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 admitted to hospitals throughout the state has increased to 2,253. In Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined there are currently 197 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 85 patients are being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals compared to 107 patients a week ago. Currently 72% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 16% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 16 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported that more than 9.7 million (9,749,726) people have been vaccinated including more than 2 million (2,021,573) people who have received a first dose, and more than 7.7 million (7,728,153) who have either completed a two-dose vaccine series or who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

More than 20,000 young teenagers in Florida have received a vaccine since eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine was expanded to include people as young as 12 nearly a week ago.

Institute Estimates 40% More Florida COVID Deaths Than State Data

More than 51,100 Floridians have died from COVID-19 in Florida, according to estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The prominent research institution, based out of the University of Washington, produces COVID-19 models that have been closely watched by health officials around the country throughout the pandemic.

This month the IHME updated its projections to reflect its own calculations of COVID-19 deaths, rather than figures reported by states and countries.

It’s estimate for Florida is about 40% higher than the nearly 37,000 deaths reported by the Florida Department of Health as of Wednesday.

The IHME explains how it conducted its analysis here.

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IHME
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Health News Florida's Stephanie Colombini talked about what these projections mean with Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist with the University of South Florida:

To get these new estimates, the IHME looked at how many more people died this year and last year than were expected to die had the pandemic never happened. And then it tried to factor in whether things like delaying health care or drug overdoses would have increased deaths, and also whether the pandemic reduced deaths in other areas like the flu or traffic fatalities.

Their conclusion overall was to assume, for now, that all excess deaths we've seen are due to COVID-19. Why are their numbers higher than what's been reported?

I think we've known from the beginning that it's an immense challenge, not just for Florida, but for every other state in the United States and every country in the world to try and accurately estimate all things COVID.

You think back in particular to early on in the pandemic, when we didn't have expansive testing. It could have been, especially in these long-term care facilities, that people were dying from COVID-19, but because we weren't able to test them, they never tested positive, maybe they didn't eventually get flagged as having died from COVID-19. We just tracked it as another death. And so, for that reason, and many more throughout the pandemic, we think we might be under-counting certain COVID-19 metrics.

This is just one group's effort to try and quantify that under-estimation, and give us a sense of what they think is the true number of COVID-19 deaths.

You looked at the ratios the IHME calculated to sort of rank the degree of underreporting in states, where does Florida stand compared to the rest of the country?

So the United States average ratio was 1.58, that is, relative to what's being reported, we think the number of deaths that were actually due to COVID-19 was 58% higher. And so Florida actually fell below that their ratio was 1.41, 41%, underreporting. I think ultimately it ranked 16th-lowest among all states.

And when you look at the five largest states in the U.S., again Florida was right in the middle of the pack. New York and Illinois were estimated to have slightly less underreporting, and Texas and California were reported to have slightly larger underreporting. Just to give you a point of comparison, whereas Florida’s ratio was 1.41, California’s was 1.93, 93% underreporting.

So again there’s a lot that underlies these estimates, there’s a lot that goes into very complex statistics and a lot of assumptions you have to rely on, but if we trust the IHME’s approach to estimating underreporting, then Florida looks like they’re doing pretty well, they’re not at either of the extremes.

What can we take away from these estimates?

Ultimately, we need context, we want to do comparisons, because it's very easy to point out, like I could have said, “Well, the IHME found that Florida had this ratio of 1.41 so they are underreporting COVID-19 deaths.” And if you take that in isolation and run with it, you can tack on, “Is this nefarious? Are they intentionally doing this?” So all of these numbers really deserve a lot of context.

What I mean by that in this case is to first of all explain that underreporting in COVID-19 deaths happens everywhere and here are some of the reasons that it happens. The other thing is let’s compare it to other states and jurisdictions, and even those comparisons deserve context. The fact that states have different approaches to collecting data, and had different impacts of the pandemic at different points in time.

But to at least say when we look at all of the jurisdictions in the U.S., the fact that Florida seems to be in the middle of the pack, that certainly takes out of play this sense that there is something intentional going on or that Florida has been disproportionately impacted. Every state has been impacted by COVID-19 and every state has their own challenges with collecting information and reporting on it.

We’re always trying to strive at the truth, and so the truth does two things. It allows us to better quantify the actual number of people that have died from COVID-19, but maybe by also saying why did certain states tend to underreport more than others, what could we do if we're in this situation again, how can we improve reporting?

I think there's a lot that can be learned from this for states that these models predict maybe did a little bit worse or a little bit better, and how we can improve data collection and reporting in the future.

The other thing and this is very common for people like myself, epidemiologists or statisticians, is we can get caught up in the numbers. And sometimes we forget that every one of those numbers, whether it's 50,000, or 50,500 and we think we're making a better estimate, each of these demonstrates that just untold numbers of people have been impacted by COVID-19.

Sarasota Lift Quarantine Requirement for Fully Vaccinated Students

Fully vaccinated students in Sarasota County who are exposed to COVID-19 can continue playing sports and going to school unless they show symptoms. In the past, all COVID-19 exposed students faced mandatory quarantines.

The Sarasota Department of Health said the change is based on CDC guidance, which states that fully vaccinated people can resume normal activities.

A spokesperson for Sarasota County Schools said the policy is not a school district rule, but that the health department is in charge of contact tracing and quarantine guidance.

The Florida High School Athletics Association said that, "since the beginning of the pandemic, school districts have been encouraged to work with their local health departments to implement COVID-19 policies they see fit for their areas and we trust them to continue to work together."

It was not clear whether other school districts would adopt similar policies.

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has scheduled another Pfizer vaccination clinic for anyone age 12 or older Saturday, May 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sarasota Square Mall.

Lee Health COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Runs Through Friday Afternoon

Lee Health's COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers is accepting walk-ins this week.

Lee Health is offering vaccine doses to people 12 and older. Minors need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. A Lee Health news release says the vaccine clinic is open daily from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. through this Friday, May 21.

Although walk-ins are welcome, those who wish to make an appointment can still do so online at leehealth.org. The vaccine is free and those seeking a shot should bring an I.D. and insurance card if they have one.

Disturbing Increase in Positive COVID-19 Cases Among Children in Palm Beach County

Health officials in Palm Beach County are seeing COVID-19 cases rise among five to 14-year-olds.

County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso spoke at a county commission meeting Tuesday.

“It’s disturbing because this is the group that’s going to be the hardest to vaccinate,” said County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso at a county commission meeting Tuesday.

“As I show you the numbers for our vaccinations you will see that this is where the problem lies and this is where we have to concentrate our efforts, especially for these children that will not be able to get vaccinated yet.”

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County expanded access to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week for people aged 12 and older at a pop-up site in Lantana.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters,WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.
Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.
Wilkine Brutus
Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.
Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.