Florida health officials monitor COVID-19 cases before starting phase 2

It’s been almost a month since Florida began opening back up and public health officials say there are benchmarks the state should hit before moving into the next reopening phase.

Govenor Ron DeSantis began phase one of his taskforce’s reopening plan on May 4, but hasn’t set a specific date for when phase two could begin.

In phase one, retail shops and restaurants are operating at 50 percent capacity, and parks and beaches are also back open.

But in order to move on, public health leaders say the state has to show progress.

”From a public health perspective, we want to make sure we have enough testing data, enough surveillance data for our entire community,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson of USF Health’s College of Public Health.

Wolfson said health officials anticipate spikes in COVID-19 cases as more people venture out, but the goal is to see a continued downward trend.

“We want to be able to monitor how we're doing that and to be able to test people all the way through these next several months to be able to detect whenever there's a spike,” said Wolfson.

Phase two of the plan recommended by the governor’s task force calls for expanding places currently open to 75 percent capacity, allowing sporting venues to open at 50 percent capacity, and allowing bars and nightclubs to open at 50 percent capacity. It also recommends suggesting nonessential travel resume and allowing social gatherings up to 50 people. However, it's still unclear exactly what the governor will do with the guidelines.

“If there are venues where there are a large number of people gathered, we need to screen for individuals to see if they're sick. We don't want one person coming in and potentially infecting 20 other individuals,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, the chief medical officer of BayCare Health System.

Anand said everyone will have to redefine normal for now.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We're headed in the right direction,” said Anand. “I just implore that everyone keep practicing those safety practices that we did, and that's going to allow us to continue to open up the state more and more.”

Public health officials said they will keep watching the average number of cases week by week to see how local response may need to adjust.