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Social distancing in Florida is new normal ‘until we get a vaccine,’ surgeon general says

Florida coronavirus numbers ‘stable’ but don’t let your guard down, Dr. Scott Rivkees warns

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he stands with State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees during a news conference Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he stands with State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees during a news conference Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

For the past week, Florida coronavirus cases have consistently grown by about 1,000 every day but cases aren’t doubling like they were last month, according to the Florida Department of Health dashboard tracking cases in the state.

On Monday, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said that while this is good, residents need to continue to maintain social distancing and staying at home, now more than ever, until there is a vaccine.

By Monday, Florida has surpassed 20,601 coronavirus cases in the state, including more than 470 dead.

Rivkees said numbers have plateaued because as health officials administer around the same amount of tests daily, that number should stabilize. More than 197,000 people have been tested for the respiratory illness. About 10.5% of those tests have returned positive for COVID-19, state numbers show.

“We are at a plateau but we cannot emphasize enough that we cannot let our guard down at this present time,” Rivkees said. “Until we get a vaccine -- which is a while off -- this is going to be our new normal and we need to adapt and protect ourselves.”

There is no vaccine currently available to prevent COVID-19 infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said a vaccine won’t be available for nearly a year.

Rivkees also described the number of hospitalizations from the virus, including patients in the ICU, as “stable.”

More than 650 people with COVID-19 have needed ventilators in the ICU, Rivkees said. The state has about 7,000 available, according to the surgeon general. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration has been tracking available resources at Florida hospitals, including ICU beds.

AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew said Monday Florida hospitals are “ready to address any surge" and “do not have a level of concern of not being able to handle” new cases. About 43% of Florida’s hospital beds are available statewide, according to the AHCA database.

If we are still seeing 1,000+ new cases daily, why is this an improvement?

“It is not only important to study the number of cases, but also how they increase over time. Their growth rate,” according to the authors of the University of Oxford’s Global Change Data Lab’s website OurWorldInData.org, which uses available data collected from health agencies around the world to study the coronavirus.

Currently in the U.S. it’s taking nine days for cases to double, according to OurWorldInData.org. To see an improvement, that time period needs to continue to increase between the time when COVID-19 cases double.

To flatten the steep rise in cases, multiple Florida agencies have implemented a five-part plan to head off the virus. According to the governor, those measures include social distancing, expanding testing in the state, working to protect elderly and more vulnerable members of society, preparing hospitals for a possible surge in patients and preventing new cases from coming into the state and nursing homes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that about 1 out of 85 residents in South Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach counties, have been tested.

“Now that there is consistent testing, you can see there are trends in the state,” DeSantis said.

Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties make up about 65% of hospitalizations across the state, according to the governor.

Florida is two weeks into a 30-day stay-at-home order issued by DeSantis.


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