Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday brushed off concerns about rising COVID case numbers and positivity testing rates, even as the Miami Herald published an investigation that calls into question the governor's use of numbers when it comes to justifying his relaxing of restrictions during the pandemic.
When he announced in April Florida was going to begin restarting its economy, DeSantis relied in part on what he said was a consistent decrease in the percentage of tests that were coming back positive.
But the Herald, using some state data that has not been made public, found that trend was actually increasing at the time.
Florida has posted two straight days of record positive-case numbers -- in part because the number of overall tests has increased.
But the share of those tests resulting in first-time positives is also increasing, to a three-day average of 5.3%. That is up from 3.4% for the prior three days, and 3.3% for the three days before that.
Now, faced with undeniable increases in both the number and share of tests coming back positive, the governor Friday said the rising numbers were good news.
"The good thing about that is these are people in low risk groups so you have almost none of them end up hospitalized," DeSantis said. "Those 25- to 45-year-olds, the clinical consequences of them testing positive is usually very, very modest because they’re not in the high-risk groups."
But Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert with Florida International University, said she is seeing an increase in COVID patients being hospitalized.
"The data as presented by the Miami Herald matches our experience with our cases in our hospitals," Marty said.
Miami-Dade County data reveals 61 COVID patients were admitted in the county yesterday, the highest number of any day this month.
While DeSantis downplayed the recent increases, noting hospitalizations are falling statewide, Marty said the reality is more concerning in South Florida.
"We’re seeing more actual hospitalizations and more individuals that we again have to place in the ICU that would not be accounted for if the only increase in cases were in individuals were pre- or asymptomatic," she said.
"The events of the last several weeks, including the very righteous protests and some people being lackadaisical, has led to a real increase in the actual numbers of people infected," Marty said.
DeSantis drew a contrast between the demographics and health of those being tested early on in the epidemic and the much wider net being cast now.
"So the majority of cases we were getting were kind of in people in more of the high risk groups," he said. "Now we have widespread testing ... You don’t have to have symptoms. There’s no age restrictions."
Whatever the underlying causes are, Marty said now is not the time to let our collective guard down -- that masks, hand-washing and distancing when possible are still necessary as long as the virus is among us.
We could know in days or weeks whether the recent increases are a statistical blip or an ominous trend.