A lot can happen in a week.
From July 16 to July 23, Florida tallied 73,199 new Covid-19 coronavirus cases. That’s an over 60% increase from the previous week, based on data from Florida Health. During that time period, Florida had more new reported infections than any other state in the U.S. In fact, Florida now accounts for about one out of every five new reported Covid-19 coronavirus infections across the entire U.S.
Over the past week, Florida has had at least 282 Covid-19-related deaths as well, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. All of this has been happening in a state where less than half of the population (48.5%) is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 with vaccination rates slowing as this News4JAX segment showed:
So, things don’t seem to be going very well in Florida, unless, of course, you happen to be a virus that looks like a spiky massage ball.
Yet, despite all this, the Florida state government doesn’t appear to be budging from its June 4 switch from daily to weekly reporting of Covid-19 statistics for the state, according to Forrest Saunders reporting for WPTV, the NBC affiliate of West Palm Beach, Florida. Florida is one of a number of states that decided in recent months to ditch daily reporting in favor of more infrequent reporting. But as Arielle Mitropoulos described in her July 2 ABC News article entitled “Dozens of states end daily COVID-19 data reports, causing experts to fear hidden outbreaks,” many public health experts were not too happy with these switches away from daily reporting of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the middle of a pandemic.
Just imagine what would happen if you were to tell the public that they could only get sports, stock market, or celebrity news on no more than a weekly basis. It probably wouldn’t go too well. After all, society has gotten used to real-time updates and smartphone notifications on all kinds of things like “Kim Kardashian Wipes Out While Wakeboarding Over Fourth of July Weekend.” So for now, Florida residents may continue to have more real-time info on what the Kardashians are doing than what a potentially deadly virus spreading around them is doing.
This makes about as much sense as a one-legged cat suit for a dog. Florida is battling the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In general, with any battle, it’s better to know where your opponent is and may be moving, whether you’re playing sports or video games, running a military operation, engaging in a beatbox competition, or trying to control an infectious disease. You can’t just wear a blindfold and use the Force as Obi-Wan Kenobi once told Luke Skywalker to do in the movie Star Wars.
In the middle of a freaking pandemic, daily updates are far from TMI (too much information). In fact, the daily updates that were provided throughout 2020 were still TLI (too little information) or a TWTHIGO (too what the heck is going on) because they weren’t able to give a timely sense of where the virus was moving. That’s in part because Covid-19 testing in the U.S. last year was about as well-coordinated as a Dancing with the Stars episode organized by marmots. Many people couldn’t even get tested when they wanted to get tested. Or they faced delays. Even after testing was done, delays may have occurred before the results were reported to the state. It’s not clear how many of these problems have since been fixed since the U.S. went from focusing on “testing, testing, testing” to “face masks, face masks, face masks” to “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine” even though all three should still remain important. Therefore, even daily reporting on given day may only represent what the virus was doing a few weeks ago and not what the virus is doing presently.
Adding another week lag to the reporting delay just further impedes the ability of health care professionals, county and municipal leaders, schools, businesses, transit operators, and many other parts of society to coordinate their response. By opting for only weekly reporting, Florida is essentially saying “stay tuned until next week” as the virus continues to spread.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not implemented universal uniform Covid-19 prevention measures such as face mask and social distancing requirements across the state. In fact, as Alison Durkee covered for Forbes, DeSantis has actually pushed against such measures. That’s left organizations, schools, businesses, municipalities, and counties to determine what precautions to take themselves. And doing so takes surveillance information to know where and when the virus may be surging. When waiting for the next weekly report, they could very well be in the midst of high viral activity without even knowing it, sort of the opposite of being sexy and knowing it. This could leave them like a birds in lawn chairs: sitting ducks.
Not knowing how much virus activity is surging from a day-to-day basis can leave health care professionals in the lurch as well. Chances are they’d like some advanced notice about whether a day might be a bad day, a very bad day, a really bad day, or a super really bad day.
States like Florida could also use more forewarning to avoid a replay of 2020. Recall when states were forced to employ more drastic measures such as school and workplace closures to put the brakes on what was getting to be an out-of-control situation. It got that way because the U.S. didn’t implement less drastic ways of stopping the virus such as social distancing and face mask use earlier to keep the daily case rate from rising so quickly.
The impact of Florida’s decisions go way beyond that state. What happens in Florida doesn’t necessarily stay in Florida. As long as people continue to travel to and from the Sunshine State, the virus can continue to hitch rides to other states like drunk people on Ubers.
Of course, some may argue that there isn’t enough time, personnel, or resources to prepare and issue daily Covid-19 reports. That argument holds water about as well as fishnet underwear. States need to make Covid-19 coronavirus surveillance a priority, because failing to contain the virus affects everyone and every industry. Think about how much companies regularly spend on getting intelligence on what their customers and competitors are doing and then adapting accordingly. They realize how powerful information can be and how it can guide their actions. That’s why ads for thigh-high boots, bondage harnesses, and chastity belts may appear on your browsers soon after you’ve gone about your typical daily Internet searching and website visiting.
Based on information that’s collected by Facebook and other platforms, companies can know and anticipate what you are going to do even before you know what you yourself are going to do. That anticipation can give such companies a competitive advantage. And that is what’s needed in the battle against the SARS-CoV-2, some competitive advantages. Unfortunately, without enough proper surveillance information, that can’t happen when trying to control the Covid-19 coronavirus. Just as with John Doe in the movie Se7en, not knowing enough about what the virus is doing is giving the Covid-19 coronavirus the upper hand. Or at least the upper spike.