Federal health officials haven’t published the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in Florida for two weeks, leaving residents in the dark on the state’s latest infections and fatalities.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention usually releases the data online each Thursday. But it said “potential technical issues” prevented Florida from reporting “aggregate case and death data” for the week ending March 29.
As of Friday afternoon, the agency also listed zero new cases and deaths statewide for the week ending Wednesday, noting that “due to ongoing technical improvements in Florida’s surveillance system,” the state Department of Health requested a “temporary pause” on submitting COVID-19 data to the agency.
A Florida health department spokesperson in an email said “reporting will resume soon” once the state adapts to a change in the federal government’s definition of a COVID-19 case.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that its virus risk levels for Florida counties “may be underestimated and should be interpreted with caution.” Currently, the Tampa Bay area is classified as having a “low” risk.
A spokesperson for the federal agency said in an email it will continue to work with the state “to ensure the correct information” is displayed online.
Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist, said he’s not too concerned about the data issues.
“I feel like I still have enough information available to me to gauge where the pandemic is right now,” Salemi said.
The federal government is updating and releasing data on Florida’s virus hospitalizations. Wastewater data on the pathogen is also available. The Florida Department of Health publishes its own reports on the virus every two weeks. The next is due April 14.
Here’s what to know about COVID-19 in Florida.
“A really good direction”
The state health department’s latest virus report, released last week, said 9,232 new cases were recorded in Florida during the week that ended March 30. That’s an 8% increase from the previous weekly caseload, but still far below what the state saw in January during an uptick in transmission after the holidays.
The health department won’t release new data until next week, and because the federal government hasn’t published the latest case numbers for Florida, residents have limited information on recent infections.
In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, viral concentrations have been dropping in wastewater at three treatment plants, according to the federal agency. This type of information is more useful than official case counts, Salemi said.
With public testing sites shuttered, many people use at-home tests and don’t report their results to health authorities, which means cases are undercounted.
Comparing this year to earlier in the pandemic, “generally speaking, I think things have been headed in a really good direction,” Salemi said.
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Statewide, new COVID-19 hospital admissions have been falling, but they remain higher than what Florida saw in early April last year.
During the week that ended Wednesday, Florida reported 991 new virus hospitalizations, a 24% decrease compared to the number of admissions in the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Hospitalizations have been holding steady at BayCare Health System, according to spokesperson Lisa Razler. The 16-hospital system was treating 109 virus patients Thursday — the same number as a week prior.
“Over the past couple of months, numbers have been between 80-120 pretty consistently,” Razler said in an email.
AdventHealth hospitals in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties had roughly 30 virus patients Thursday, according to spokesperson Beth Tunis. A week before, they had about 20.
Death toll jumps
The state health department reported last week that 87,585 Floridians have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. That’s 444 more deaths than what the agency reported in its March 17 update. (It can take weeks for fatalities to be announced.)
Booster rate still low
People 65 and up are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. But only about 30% of Florida seniors have received an updated booster shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — the fifth-lowest rate of any state in the U.S. behind only Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.