If Gov. Ron DeSantis wants Floridians to make informed personal decisions about the pandemic, there is a simple, non-political step he should take: Tell the state Department of Health to resume releasing daily reports of coronavirus numbers and include important detailed data, including deaths by county, hospitalizations and infections in nursing homes.
On June 3, Florida cut back COVID reporting to once a week. That might have been reasonable before the delta variant started running wild through the state. After all, it takes time and effort to compile the data every day. But curtailing the flow of information makes no sense now with the numbers turning for the worse — and quickly.
The state dashboard used to provide a daily one-stop place for average Floridians to find data that could lead to informed personal decisions: Should I wear a mask even if I’m vaccinated? Maybe it’s really time for that vaccination? Perhaps dinner with maskless, vaccinated friends makes sense again?
Information is power. Right now, we know that Florida accounts for one in five new coronavirus infections in the entire nation, and that Florida, Texas and Missouri make up a full 40 percent of all new cases. Those trend lines certainly don’t inspire calm. More timely information would help Floridians to understand the COVID situation to make better real-time decisions. As it now stands, Floridians are relying on nearly week-old numbers from the state. And those numbers aren’t good.
The last state report, issued last Friday at 5:31 p.m., showed 73,199 new infections reported between July 16 and July 22, the worst daily average in more than five months. And the state’s positivity rate doubled, going from 7.8 percent to 15.1 percent in the span of two weeks. Hospitalizations doubled, and deaths are up. What are the numbers now? Tune in late Friday.
“Doing this weekly report just leaves you completely in the dark about what’s going on,” University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins told the Tampa Bay Times. “And then on Friday, all of a sudden, like, boom, you get this surprise number.”
With only weekly reports, Floridians won’t know in a timely fashion when the state has begun to turn the corner toward recovery again. Whether the numbers are good or bad, Floridians need to know them now.
This week’s news provides even more urgency. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for those who are fully vaccinated to wear masks indoors in high-risk areas. Sadly, that includes all of Florida. It is a recommendation, not a mandate, but individual Floridians could make far more informed choices if they were seeing current data every day. And President Joe Biden said he is considering whether or not to require that all federal workers be vaccinated. All of these developments augur for more information, faster.
We live in a constantly connected world where information travels at the speed of light. It makes no sense to act as if it’s reasonable to “update” crucial COVID information with the effective urgency of a post card arriving via snail mail. This is a disease that has killed 38,670 Floridians. And it’s not over.
But as it is, Floridians won’t know how bad (or good) the new numbers are until late Friday. Set your wind-up alarm clock for, say, 5:31 p.m., and hope for the best.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.