You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Coronavirus Florida: Curve-flattening proves stay-at-home policies work, experts say

Tallahassee Democrat logoTallahassee Democrat 4/23/2020 Jeffrey Schweers, USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

As executives, business leaders, educators and politicians discuss this week how to safely reopen a coronavirus-ravaged Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly said the state has flattened the curve and has plenty of hospital beds.  

Florida, he said, proved the experts wrong.

Not exactly, said Leo Nissola, a cancer immunotherapist: “On the contrary, we proved that sheltering in place actually worked." 

Nissola works with COVID ACT NOW, a group of doctors and researchers that projects hospital capacity from the national down to the state and county level.

If sheltering in place didn’t work, “hospitals would be struggling right now,” said Nissola, who works at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco. “California is not seeing an overload in the healthcare services because officials took decisive actions early on.”

a close up of a stage: Coronavirus © Getty Images Coronavirus

FYI: To provide our community with important public safety information, the Tallahassee Democrat is making stories related to the coronavirus free to read. To support important local journalism like this, please consider becoming a digital subscriber.

Assuming stay-at-home interventions remain in place in Florida, Nissola said, hospitals in the larger, more urban counties are not projected to become overloaded. However, COVID ACT NOW projections are showing a risk of possible hospital overload in the lower-population counties of Bradford, Hendry, Sumter, and Suwannee, he said.

COVID ACT NOW modeling also shows Manatee and Volusia counties facing exponential growth that could lead to a hospital shortage if restrictions are lifted.

And Florida shouldn't reopen without further testing: "Yes, it is very premature to reopen," Nissola said. The state needs more evidence from coronavirus blood testing of the general population "and have a robust process for contact tracing."

All week, DeSantis has touted a large surplus of regular hospital and intensive care beds as a sign that the state is hitting a plateau. He's also mentioned that Florida is third in total testing (although not per capita) and has pushed for more diverse testing.

"Yesterday we had 779 new patients but almost 13,000 test results," DeSantis said at the start of a meeting of the Reopen Florida Task Force Executive Committee Thursday afternoon. "I like the direction it’s going. We need to keep it going there to make sure people are healthy." 

DeSantis added: "Going forward, from a health perspective we need to keep the momentum going."

From an economic perspective, he said, the task force needs to find a way to make the public confident that they will remain safe as the state moves toward reopening segments of the economy.

"You can do a lot of things with social distancing that doesn’t involve shutting everything down," DeSantis said. He also praised the state for having one of the lowest death rates among other states with large populations. 

Wednesday saw a single-day death toll of 62, the biggest single-day increase since it hit 72 on April 14 and April 16. The biggest single day peak was 77 on April 2.

And Thursday morning, the Department of Health reported 960 deaths, an increase of 67 over 24 hours. By Thursday night the death toll reached 987. The daily death rate has steadily climbed from 2% to 3.14% in the last few weeks.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said it has been 21 days since Florida's projected peak, and is projecting a steady downward trend. The institute projects a total of 1,620 deaths by Aug. 4, with a range between 999 and 3,321.

The IHME also said the earliest Florida could look to relax social distancing with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation and limiting gathering size is the week of June 8.

The state Department of Health reported 28,832 cases of coronavirus Thursday morning, at 523 one of the lowest single-day increases in weeks. By Thursday night that number reached 29,648 — at 816 cases, it's the highest jump in over a seven-hour period in weeks.

Hospitalizations, on the other hand, were up by 221 over the previous 24 hours, to 4,509. They jumped an additional 131 by late Thursday to 4,640.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed 72% of Florida voters said the state should not relax social distancing rules by the end of April, when DeSantis's stay-at-home executive order is set to expire.

a person sitting on a chair in a room: Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a press conference in the Historic Capitol to share update on coronavirus in Florida as well as announce that schools with continue distance learning for the remainder of the school year, Saturday, April 18, 2020. © Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a press conference in the Historic Capitol to share update on coronavirus in Florida as well as announce that schools with continue distance learning for the remainder of the school year, Saturday, April 18, 2020.

Three quarters of registered voters said the state "should only reopen when public health officials deem it safe," the university said in a press release.

"The state's stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire at the end of the month of April, but nearly three quarters of Floridians are not ready to drop their guard," Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in the news release.

Since the poll's release on Wednesday, several task force members asked whether medical doctors or public health officials could be available to answer questions about the coronavirus and proper safety procedures.

A presentation on social distancing standards and contact tracing was given Thursday afternoon by Dr. Shamarial Roberson, Florida's deputy secretary for health.

More testing needs to be done statewide as people come back to work, not just for those who are symptomatic or most vulnerable, said Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida College of Public Health.

"No one’s immune to this so there is a large susceptible population," Prins said. Blood testing on people who are asymptomatic and those who have recovered is important too, she added, as well as more rigorous contact tracing to find the people who have had contact with COVID-19-positive patients.

Some of the data is encouraging, such as a downward trend of admissions to hospitals along with with the stay-at-home order, Prins said. But without more widespread testing, it is too soon to lift the stay-at-home order and start allowing people to return to work at nonessential businesses.

"I would caution very strongly whether we should be lifting that order too soon," Prins said.

Contact Jeff Schweers at jschweers@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

Subscribe today and never miss a story.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Coronavirus Florida: Curve-flattening proves stay-at-home policies work, experts say

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Tallahassee Democrat

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon