TAMPA, Fla. - The wait is on to find out if Florida's plan to safely reopen the state is working.
The problem with tracking whether measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 are working is that there's a lag time of days to weeks between when someone is exposed to the disease and when they show symptoms -- and then when those people get tested and their test results are reported.
The impact of reopening won't be known for several weeks, and by then it may be too late.
Since April 11, the number of new cases each week has generally gone down, weekly new cases have generally dropped, from around 7,200 to 5,100. The number of deaths has also dropped, from 319 four weeks ago to 252 last week.
The downward trend is likely the result of weeks of closures and 'stay at home' orders.
During their socially-distant zoom meeting today, Hillsborough County officials acknowledged this is a turning point.
"We have seen a lot more traffic out over the last two weeks," said Kimberly Overman, a Hillsborough County commissioner and a member of the county's Emergency Policy Group. "I am just seeing it's 10 to 14 days when we see the numbers creep up a little bit, when we have an event or something that raises the exposure rate."
The question is: Can Florida reopen gathering places like restaurants, salons, and gyms and still keep infections from spiking?
"If we take reopening as 'going back to normal,' the normal we knew, then we may see all of those indicators start to trend upward," said Dr. Marissa Levine of University of South Florida Health, who once ran Virginia's department of health.
The key indicators are on the state's COVID-19 dashboard: The numbers of new cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and the percent of positive test results.
"If we keep doing our physical distancing, using face coverings when we can't assure that, we can keep this at bay and prevent a huge second wave spike," Levine said.
Hillsborough County's Emergency Policy Group dropped its meetings from twice a week to once a week, with the caveat they can spring into action right away if needed.
"If for some reason we get a spike in cases, and it looks like we need to get together," said EPG chair Les Miller, "I will be the one that can call the Emergency policy group back together."
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to email@example.com. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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