USF public health professor talks about Florida’s increasing coronavirus cases

coronavirus cases are up in Florida

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For the third week in a row, the number of new coronavirus cases in Florida has been higher than before the state lifted safer-at-home requirements. According to the Florida Department of Health website, there were 5,500 new coronavirus cases in the state for the week that ended Saturday.

More than 56,100 Floridians have tested positive for coronavirus during the pandemic, more than 10,200 have been hospitalized and more than 2,400 have died.

WMNF spoke with Dr. Marissa Levine, professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida.

Dr. Levine thanks so much for being here today.  What can you say about the numbers of coronavirus cases in Florida especially considering that about three weeks ago the state started to open up? 

“We can say that if we look at the trends we’ve seen it a little bit bumpy meaning that on some days it’s up and some days it’s down. For the most part there’s either a trend stable, and by stable I mean we’re having a consistent number of cases, new cases every day. Or in some weeks and some days it looks like maybe even a slight trend up. We definitely don’t have a huge spike but we’re not going in the opposite direction either.”

When we were talking about reopening in the state, reopening the country, one of the things that was supposed to be a consideration was to have a downward trend. How long of a downward trend would it have been good to have had and are we seeing that now?

“For the most part we were looking at a couple of weeks of a downward trend to give us some faith that it was truly a trend. Because one point in time is not a trend. So now we’re not really seeing a downward trend in new cases throughout Florida. We’re seeing that in some locales but in other locales we’re actually seeing the beginnings of an upward trend.”

What do you think that might be attributable to? 

“First of all the safer at home worked in terms of getting the number of new cases down and protecting the most vulnerable. It was painful in many ways though because it had unintended consequences. But at the time it probably was our only option.

“Now, with reopening, the issue is this: Nothing has changed with respect to the virus. The virus that is circulating, that causes Covid-19, we still do not have a treatment, a specific treatment, or a vaccine. So that has not changed even though we’re reopened. What we need to consider as we reopen, individually and together, is the fact that we have to continue all of those efforts that we put in place prior to the reopening.

“We have to maintain our physical distancing. That will decrease our likelihood of being exposed to the virus. And if we can’t, we should carry around a cloth face covering and use that when we think we might be around people much closer than that six-foot buffer. And then all of those disinfection and hand hygienic practices that we really pushed, we need to continue especially now as places are opening.

“And if you look around you’re seeing that businesses that really want to do this well and provide safe service are really making an effort. We’re seeing some creativity and innovation which I think is also good.”

When you say creativity and innovation by businesses, such as?

“We know that if you’re going to be indoors you’re at greater risk because the virus can more easily circulate. So indoors, we have to be creative about how do we make sure that we maintain that six-foot-plus separation, even when we have people milling around. And we’ve seen places give patrons, in one case I saw a rubber-tubed table so that it allowed you to maintain your six-foot or a strange-looking hat that did the same thing. And we’ve seen some kind of bubble rooms, if you will, around tables to prevent that. We’ve seen disposable menus so that you’re not potentially touching contaminated surfaces. And we’ve seen wait staff in restaurants, for example, wearing cloth face coverings.

“All of those things are important. That has not changed. I’m worried that right now people are looking at reopening as oh, we can just go back to normal and it will be ok. It’s very possible that it won’t be ok if we don’t all do our share.”

We’ve talked about mobility, about having people whether restaurants etc are open, but what about things like contact tracing and testing. How is Florida doing and how is the Tampa Bay area doing on those two issues that are also important when it comes to controlling the spread of the virus, contact tracing and the number of tests that are being done?

“We’ve clearly seen a ramping up in testing and I’m talking about testing to diagnose people who have the virus. And clearly people who are sick, who are ending up in health care facilities are getting tested. The challenge is being able to test more of the community and then when somebody comes up with a positive test to do the contact tracing as you talked about where you identify who they’ve been around that might have been exposed and then potentially test those people, too.

“That’s really important now to identify new cases and prevent what we call hot spots or new outbreaks in a very local area. If we can’t do that effectively then we can see a large community spread like we had not too long ago, quite frankly.

“I know that the health department is trying to ramp up its workforce because you need a lot of people to be able to do contract tracing effectively. And so we’ve seen more people involved in that. But we’re probably not where we need to be in terms of being able to provide testing to everybody who we find who might have been exposed.

“And we also have an issue where even though there are testing capabilities all throughout the state, there’s drive-through testing, for example, some of that depends on the demand. You have to want to get tested. And I think we have to get the word out that it’s still very important, if you have symptoms, if you think you’ve been exposed, if you’ve been out and about and aren’t sure, that it’s very important still to get tested. It’s not passed by any means and we have the potential because we likely do not have a large number of people in our community who are immune to this virus, we have the potential to have another big wave of COVID sometime in the near future.

“I hate to say that and I can’t predict because I  don’t have a crystal ball, but we have that potential. And we can together, individually through our actions and together through our actions, we’re the ones who can prevent that next big wave from occurring.”

Listen to the full MidPoint show here.

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