With the Governor’s Office denying that a change in the frequency of COVID-19 is imminent, Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his ambivalence Thursday on whether that data should be released daily or weekly.
Thursday marked the first time DeSantis fielded questions from the press since it was reported last week that the Governor’s Office was in early talks on when to scale back Florida’s daily coronavirus updates. Communications director Fred Piccolo has repeatedly said that change won’t be happening soon and that there are no confirmed details on what could trigger a switch to weekly or semiweekly updates.
DeSantis offered no details regarding his office’s discussions, instead saying he had “no firm preference either way” regarding the reporting frequency.
“I don’t really have strong feelings about it,” he said.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to do it going forward,” he added later.
He also hedged, siding with critics and experts who are calling for continued daily data publications.
“At the same time, we do want people to get the tests in and it is helpful to have information in as real-time as possible,” DeSantis said.
No decision has been made on the matter, he added, emphasizing that his priority was that the Department of Health produce accurate data.
Some labs only release positive test results when they are required to release positive, negative and inconclusive findings. Others have released backlogged data en masse.
“If you’re going to submit 100 positive tests, then submit the 1,000 or 1,500 negatives at the same time,” DeSantis said. “Don’t submit that a week later because it kind of upsets the apple cart a little bit.”
In one instance last month, DOH said Quest Diagnostics dumped 75,000 results dating back to April. Sorting those results delayed the report by several hours, and the department ultimately cut testing ties with the laboratory.
Wednesday’s report was delayed about six hours as DOH implemented an additional review process for counting fatalities. The department still hasn’t clarified what those additional reviews are, but a department notice ahead of the official release detailed lengthy time periods between infection and death and between death and report in some instances.
Thursday’s press release following the morning COVID-19 update did not include the same details for newly-reported deaths.
NewsNation Now reported Tuesday that the administration was considering scaling back reporting frequency “because it requires 24 hour staffing,” citing an email from DeSantis press secretary Cody McCloud.
But that change is still far off, with the state still counting too many deaths per day to consider a change. Piccolo said the trigger for fewer reports might be for deaths to drop toward zero in the days leading up to the decision.
However, Dr. Frederick Southwick, an infectious disease expert based in Gainesville, believes the decision to decrease reports should be tied to new cases per 100,000 residents. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the virus.
“You could see the deaths going down and say, ‘Oh, everything’s perfect.’ Meanwhile, you had a surge and there are actually 25 per 100,000 and you’re down to two deaths because two weeks earlier, you only had like 5 per 100,000,” Southwick said.
The infectious disease expert, a professor of medicine and former University of Florida chief of infectious diseases, opposes decreasing the report’s frequency.
“Time is of the absolute essence,” he said. “If you don’t have the data, you don’t have the feedback to make the decisions and you delay those decisions, the number of people you’re going to have to deal with and the case finding becomes overwhelming, and then it gets out of control.”
Following reports last week about the possible future change, Democratic Sens. Lori Berman and Janet Cruz issued a joint statement calling the tidbit a “political stunt” and a page from President Donald Trump‘s “tired playbook of obfuscation.”
“Even as new daily coronavirus cases are creeping up again, the DeSantis administration has offered up a trial balloon to move Florida from daily COVID reporting to weekly reporting,” the Senators said. “They stated that staffing costs are constraining, but there is perhaps no greater use of public funds.”
DOH and DEM first released a joint COVID-19 report on March 16. Between March 19 to April 24, the state released both a morning and evening report each day. Since then, the state has released one report each day, except for Oct. 10, when a glitch and duplicate data forced officials to delay and ultimately scrap that day’s report.
As of Thursday, 768,091 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida, including 9,785 nonresidents. At least 16,267 residents have died, plus 203 nonresidents in the state.