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What the unpublicized White House report says about Covid-19 in Florida

Margie Manning



Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

The state of Florida should mandate masks in all counties with rising test percent positivity, according to a document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The document, dated July 14, has not been publicized but was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom in Washington, D.C. The Center published the full document here.

Florida is one of 18 states in the “red zone” with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, the Center for Public Integrity said. Florida had 308 new cases per 100,000 population in the past week, compared to the national average of 119 per 100,000.

Florida also is one of 11 states in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive. The Florida positivity rate last week was 18.6 percent, while the national rate was 9.6 percent.

Florida had 417 Covid-19 deaths last week, or 2 per 100,000, twice the national rate of 1 per 100,000 deaths, the report said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declined to issue a mask mandate although the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners approved a face covering requirement for anyone in an indoor public space late last month. Hillsborough County has a similar requirement.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area, along with Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, are among the Florida metro areas and counties in the red zone. Policy recommendations for counties in the red zone include public messaging about wearing a mask at all times when outside the home and maintaining physical distance.

The document said public officials should close bars and gyms for counties in the red zone. DeSantis’ administration closed bars in late June, reversing an earlier decision that allowed bars to open. Gyms remain open in Florida and locally.

The document also said public officials should create outdoor dining opportunities with pedestrian areas — an action Mayor Rick Kriseman took in May.

Testing recommendations for counties in the red zone include a move to community-led neighborhood testing and work with local community groups to increase access to testing, as well as surge testing and contact tracing resources for neighborhoods and ZIP codes with the highest case rates.

Many of the recommendations for Florida already are in place in three South Florida counties — Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade — that were not included in the second phase of the state reopenings, according to the Palm Beach Post.  Under the Phase Two reopening in the rest of the state, groups of up to 50 can gather and restaurants can seat people indoors at up to 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

Here’s the full list of recommendations for Florida.

• Continue routine weekly testing of all workers in assisted living and long-term care facilities and require masks and social distancing for all visitors.

• Mandate masks in all counties with rising test percent positivity.

• Keep bars closed in all counties with rising test percent positivity, increase outdoor dining opportunities, decrease indoor dining to 25 percent and limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

• Continue the scale-up of testing, moving to community-led neighborhood testing and working with local community groups to increase household testing of multi-generational households with clear guidance on test positive isolation procedures and mask use.

• Ensure all individuals and households [who were] engaged in any multi-household July 4th activities are immediately tested, either in pools or as individuals. [Note: Pooled testing combines, or “pools,” samples from multiple people and tests them as a group for the coronavirus. It’s a way to dramatically and efficiently increase volume, according to this report in]

• Increase messaging of the risk of serious disease in all age groups with preexisting medical conditions, including obesity, hypertension and diabetes mellitus.

• Expand testing capacity in public health labs, adding shifts and weekend shifts to decrease turnaround times and institute 2:1 pools. 

• Expand pooled collections into neighborhoods with household pools, allowing rapid household alerts and household isolation with follow-up individual diagnostic tests. This approach will allow rapid screening of entire neighborhoods and isolation of cases to dramatically decrease spread.

The Center for Public Integrity said the White House did not respond to a request for comment about the report.


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