When the coronavirus was raging, Governor Ron DeSantis repeatedly said that the best way to monitor the pandemic was to track the number of people seeking hospital treatment for COVID-19.
But, when the state last week stopped publishing daily reports on new cases, deaths and vaccinations, it also stopped requiring hospitals to report the number of people it treated daily for. disease.
This means that data on emergency room visits and hospital admissions, which had declined dramatically in recent weeks, is no longer available not only to the public, but to policymakers.
What DeSantis once called “leading indicators” of the spread and severity of the disease are now unknown.
After:Florida is the only state in the top 8 to release COVID figures only once a week
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After:Florida to stop publishing daily reports on COVID cases, deaths and vaccinations
Dr Jean Malecki, a longtime former director of the Palm Beach County Department of Health, said the disappearance of the data was part of the latest worrying trend.
She said she was dismayed by Florida’s decision to become the first state in the country to switch to a weekly reporting system.
“It is extremely dangerous and does a disservice to the community and to humanity,” she said.
With Florida leading the country in the number of cases of the most contagious and deadly variant strains of the virus, now is not the time to relax reporting requirements, she said.
“It’s going to emerge in different ways and people need to be aware of what’s going on,” said Malecki, who throughout the pandemic has served as a volunteer consultant to county groups from her home in Arizona.
Beth Blauer, executive director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University, said hospital admissions are an important way to monitor the pandemic.
“This is one of the critical factors that gave us early clues that the disease was going to get worse,” said Blauer, who was part of a team that created the much-watched and respected online coronavirus tracker. of the University.
She cited Michigan as an example. When daily hospital admissions in the state fell from 1,000 to 1,500 a day in late March, it warned health and government officials that the virus was spreading rapidly.
Restrictions on large gatherings and mask requirements have been extended. Immunization efforts, with assistance from the federal government, have been stepped up.
“Without timely data, policy decisions like this can be delayed, leading to more unnecessary deaths from COVID-19,” Blauer said.
Dr Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County state-run health department, said she was not concerned that hospitals would no longer be required to report their daily COVID-19 admissions, the use intensive care beds or emergency room visits.
She said she talks to hospital officials at least once a week.
“We still have access to these people,” she told county commissioners this week. “If there is a problem, they can reach out.
Like Blauer, she raised the specter of Michigan.
“We don’t want to wake up one morning and be Michigan,” she said. “It won’t happen in Palm Beach County.”
Additionally, she said, although the number of new cases diagnosed each day is not publicly available, it will always be reported to her office. So if cases increase, she said she might sound an alarm.
A new dashboard is being created by state health officials, so information that is now only released on a weekly basis will again be available every day, she said. It’s being planned and it’s unclear when it will launch, she said.
However, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said the dashboard will be for internal use only and not accessible to the public.
Malecki, who served as the county’s health director for 18 years, said sharing data with the public was essential.
“When you don’t report information and you’re not transparent, it creates fear,” she said. “It’s the first thing that creates bad health.”
People need to know the risks they face so they can make reasoned decisions, she said.
“Just to say, ‘I’m going to stop reporting and stop giving our people the best information available,’ that’s the disservice,” she said.
But, state health officials said, the time was right.
To explain why hospitals are no longer required to report admissions and other data, they used the same expression state health officials did when they announced on Friday that the daily reports would no longer be released.
“Florida is moving to the next phase of the response to COVID-19,” the Agency for Healthcare Administration said in a statement on Wednesday.
He said Florida saw a 41% drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations from May 5 to June 4. On June 3, the agency’s now obsolete online reporting system showed 1,779 people hospitalized for treatment of the disease, up from 3,009 on May 5. Patients included 101 in the county on June 3 and 224 on May 5.
“The data clearly indicates that Florida healthcare facilities are well positioned to move into pre-pandemic activities,” the AHCA said in the statement.
Citing significant declines in the number of cases among residents of the state’s roughly 4,000 long-term care facilities, they said nursing homes are no longer required to report COVID-19 infections.
“As of June 4, 0.12% of residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities tested positive for COVID,” he said.
Malecki said the turnaround was inexplicable. The state created the online dashboard to give people the information they need to protect themselves.
Dismantling the reporting system when less than 50% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated and questions are raised about whether vaccines will protect people against emerging variants does not make sense, she said. declared.
“As a public health professional with 40 years of experience, I find it hard to believe that anyone with scientific experience or training in public health would agree to do this,” she said.
If she was the county health director today, she said her response would be quick. “I would be extremely angry and very loud,” she said.