ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The coronavirus situation in Orange County could be looking up, according to local leaders.
During a news conference Monday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Dr. Raul Pino, a health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, confirmed that the latest numbers show a drop in the county’s positivity rate.
The Florida Department of Health’s daily report on Monday showed Orange County had an overall positivity rate of 11%, which Demings said is good news when it comes to the county’s COVID-19 curve, but that he’d like to see drop even more.
“We have tested over 211,000 individuals and our overall positivity rate, according to the state is an even 11%, so we’re edging down with that,” Demings said. “That’s good news for us so we want to get that number back into the single digits.”
The county also reported the smallest number of new cases Monday than it had in several days, according to the mayor, with 340 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday.
Compared to the number of new cases Orange County had reported in previous days, Demings called Monday’s numbers “good news.”
“That is one of the lowest numbers that we’ve had in quite some time. On Sunday, for example, we had 739 cases reported. Saturday, we had 470, and on Friday of last week, we had 740,” he said. “So it’s a bit of good news to hear that we have 340 cases. I never thought that that would be good news in any way to say that we have 340 new cases here within our community.”
During the news conference, Pino reported another set of numbers that provided an even brighter glimmer of hope.
According to Pino, the county reported 4,269 negative COVID-19 test results on Monday and 340 positive cases, making for a daily positivity rate of 7.4%.
Pino also acknowledged the drop in positive cases was a good thing, but asked residents not to look at the numbers and think they should be more relaxed in the way they approach the pandemic.
“That’s for a 7.4 positivity rate for today, which is the lowest that we have (seen) in many days. Although, one day doesn’t make a trend. We are optimistic. But, I should say, please, please, do not let your guard down. It will come up, up if we do that,” Pino said.
Pino said it’s important when looking at data that Orange County residents look at numbers with context by looking at not only the number of positive cases of COVID-19, but also how many tests are conducted and how many of them yielded negative results.
“The interesting part with the data -- and this is where people can be (confused), is that although our numbers absolutely increased, because of the number of tests that we performed, we also have a decrease in the overall positivity rate, because there is a large number of negative test that has been conducted,” Pino said.
He said the county health department looks at what it calls its rolling average positivity rate for the past 14 days to get a better look at the current situation. As of Monday, that rate stood at 15.92%, according to Pino, a drop from July 8, when the county’s rolling average positivity rate was 20.09%.
Pino said it’s important to know that the county cleaned up that number a bit to give a more accurate picture of the county’s COVID-19 situation, since the original number included MLS and NBA players who are being tested while staying in Orange County.
“Now this positivity rate, we cleaned it up a little bit. We took out all the MLS testing and all the NBA testing because although they are ... in our county, because they get tested so often, and they are mostly negative, it will skew the data in showing a result that is less than what reality is because of the high number of negative tests,” Pino said.
In terms of accuracy, Pino said perfect numbers when dealing with a data set this size are pretty much impossible because there’s so much room for error.
“The reality is the public have to understand is when you have a data set of this size -- it’s massive, it has a quarter of a million people already in it. So you are prone to have mistakes. When you have multiple labs collecting data and the people collecting the testing stations are also collecting data, so it’s a lot of opportunity for error,” Pino said.
However, Pino said Orange County’s data has been accurate overall and is carefully monitored by the local health department.
“The data, overall, has been very accurate in to portraying that picture that the mayor was talking about. Now, there has been corrections and things that could have done better or data points that I would like to have that I don’t have ... or that the state is not providing. But Orange County has the fortune of having a large health department that has the ability to do those analytics. So every single data that come into our county is double cleaned, and is cleaned, by our own epidemiologist. And so we send that feedback to Tallahassee, and when it’s corrected, it’s corrected and sometimes it doesn’t need to be corrected.”
He said any errors have not been massive in a way that will skew the data in one direction.
Demings said he believes the numbers provide enough information about the county to make appropriate decisions about its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The numbers may not be 100% accurate, but I believe that the totality of the numbers that we have gives us an accurate picture, by which to make public policy,” Demings said.
Currently, a mask mandate is in effect in Orange County and leaders are planning to soon send strike teams out into the county to gather information about businesses that aren’t abiding by the county’s COVID-19 orders.
When asked on Monday about tying penalties to the current mask mandate or the possibility of another countywide curfew, Demings said he did not believe those regulations were necessary yet but that both measures are “tools he has in his toolbox” if further action is needed.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, Orange County has reported 23,584 total cases of the novel coronavirus since the first case was detected in Florida in early March. The county has also reported 119 coronavirus-related deaths.
There have been 360,394 cases of COVID-19 reported statewide, resulting in 5,183 deaths.