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New regional dashboard gives local leaders a snapshot of Covid-19 trends

Margie Manning

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Tampa Bay Partnership's COVID-19 Regional Re-Opening Dashboard

With an eye on what’s needed to safely reopen businesses, the Tampa Bay Partnership has launched a dashboard with key Covid-19 data for the Tampa Bay area.

The COVID-19 Regional Re-Opening Dashboard uses data from the state and focuses on numbers of cases, testing and hospital capacity. Those are benchmarks that are cited in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen Florida, following business closures and restrictions enacted to slow the spread of Covid-19.

“These benchmarks were selected because they are important. As we see trends going in the wrong direction, we need to step back and ask good probing questions about what is happening in our market to cause this,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The St. Pete Catalyst asked Homans who should take on that role.

“We believe very strongly that there needs to be a group of elected officials that meet on a regional level to review this data, to monitor the progress of this pandemic and to respond accordingly. They don’t need to have any formal structure, it can be informal, but there needs to be ongoing communication between the leaders of the respective counties within Tampa Bay exactly for the reason you are seeing here — to monitor these trends and to coordinate responses as negative trends begin to emerge,” Homans said.

That’s not currently happening in any visible way, Homans said. “We think that regional coordination is a critical component of a successful response to this crisis.”

Virus crosses county lines

A Covid-19 dashboard created by Pinellas County earlier this week concentrates on similar metrics in Pinellas.

The Tampa Bay Partnership dashboard aggregates data for eight counties. It’s important to take a regional viewpoint, because people cross county lines to live, work and play. Homans cited comments by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who said that most of the visitors at Pinellas beaches over the weekend were from outside the county.

“The virus doesn’t respect political boundaries or county boundaries,” Homans said. “People travel throughout Tampa Bay and we’re one economic market.”

The Partnership dashboard can be sorted by individual criteria and viewed by metropolitan statistical area or by county.

“It gives us the opportunity to see where there might hot spots developing, or trends moving in the wrong direction. It gives our elected officials the ability to zero in on those and to ask important questions about what is going on, why it is happening and what can be done to contain it before it spreads further,” Homans said.

The number of Covid-19 cases and hospital bed availabilities are updated daily, while there are weekly updates on testing and emergency department visits. That’s how often the state updates its data, which the Partnership dashboard draws on.

“The data coming out is only as good as the data going in it. It’s absolutely critical that the data that we receive from state officials is accurate and detailed so we as a community can use that data to make life and death decisions about our own future,” Homans said.

He declined to comment on reports that the state’s Covid-19 data chief, Rebekah Jones, was removed from her job after Jones raised concerns about the lack of transparency of data being reported by the state.

State of the region

DeSantis’ plan for reopening Florida includes several criteria:

  • a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and Covid-like illnesses;
  • a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of all tests;
  • a downward trajectory of documented Covid-19 cases;
  • the capability to treat all patients without triggering surge capacity.

The Tampa Bay region is on track with most of those benchmarks, but Homans highlighted a few areas of concern.

Tampa Bay’s average daily case rate is higher now than it was at its lowest point on May 1, prior to the Phase One re-opening. The 14-day rolling average showed 89 cases a day as of May 19, compared to a 14-day rolling average of 75 cases a day on May 1.

Tampa Bay’s hospital bed availability has decreased from a high of 43.4 percent on April 11 to 25.4 percent on May 19.

Increases in the rate of positive testing in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties have caused the region’s positive testing rate to stall near 2.7 percent since May 9, after a fairly steady decline from a high of 7.2 percent on April 18.

“Most experts look at this as a really important number. Bottom line, Florida is doing very well compared to the rest of the country with this rate and Tampa Bay is doing really well compared to the rest of Florida with this rate, but what we need to watch at this point is will this rate continue to rise and what causes that to happen,” Homans said

The COVID-19 Regional Re-Opening Dashboard is available here.

The Partnership produced the dashboard as part of its State of the Region initiative, in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, United Way Suncoast and USF Muma College of Business.

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