Florida's increase in COVID-19 cases is due to 'more virus,' not increased testing, doctor says

Florida has had more than two weeks of consecutive days reporting over 1,000 positive cases of COVID-19, and local leaders in Tampa Bay are getting ready for more community spread.

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported a single-day record of about 3,200 positive coronavirus cases.

“In terms of where we are nationally, Florida is eighth in the country in terms of the total number of cases,” said Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general.

Emergency policy leaders in Hillsborough County said they are averaging over 500 tests a day at county testing sites.

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While Governor Ron DeSantis said the spike is attached to more testing, Tampa Bay doctors said that is not the only factor.

“The increased tests in the state of Florida began in the middle of May. The increased numbers did not begin until two to three weeks later. If [the spike] was just due to increased numbers, we would have immediately seen an increased number of positive test results in the middle of May and that was not the case,” said Dr. Juan Dumois, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “So we are seeing the increased numbers now because there’s more virus going around.”

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To help pinpoint community spread, Hillsborough County leaders said up to 3,000 COVID-19 test kits are coming in every week.

“This week as well as last week, we had an uptick in the call demand. We have had some challenges this week,” said Tim Dudley, the Hillsborough County emergency management director.

One of those challenges is at the call center where residents said they ran into problems like dropped calls and long wait times when they tried to schedule appointments at drive-thru testing sites. County leaders said it was a short-term issue.

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“This latest situation was really the outcome in the last few days of a major spike in cases. Part of this is balancing resources. I think we will find a web-based solution to make it easier,” said Mike Merrill, the Hillsborough County Administrator. The county will look into making online appointments an option for residents.

Dudley said they will add 10 more people to the call center to help with wait times.

Health officials said it’s vital for people to take personal responsibility and do their part to help reduce the spread.