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Florida leaders consider eventually scaling back on daily coronavirus reporting

For more than seven months, the Florida Department of Health has released updates on the state’s coronavirus-related caseloads and deaths every 24 hours. But state officials have begun discussing when and if they’ll scale back on those daily reports.

State officials said they have no immediate plans to make changes to the daily coronavirus reports, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday, but they have talked about reducing them and what the timing of that would look like.

“The issue has been raised as something to start thinking about timing wise but these news stories have blown it way out of proportion,” Fred Piccolo said in an email regarding other news reports about the issue.

Another DeSantis spokesperson, Cody McCloud, told the media group NewsNation that the decision was being considered because to generate those reports, the health department must keep staff on 24 hours a day.

When asked what the criteria would look like for if and when the state reduced its daily reports, Piccolo said the discussions “haven’t even gotten that far.” This potential move comes weeks after DeSantis announced Florida would be moving into Phase 3 of reopening, where businesses no longer have any capacity restrictions.

The health department has tracked coronavirus data from all 67 counties nearly every day since March, except for one day when they received an influx of backlogged tests from a private laboratory.

Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida, said scaling back coronavirus reporting would undermine public trust.

“The more transparent you are, the more people can trust what’s happening and that there’s not a strong political influence to decision making,” she said.

When you lose the trust of the public and send mixed messages, it prevents the community from coming together to curb the spread of disease, Levine said.

Local leaders rely on the state’s coronavirus information to make decisions about in-person schooling and other matters. Reducing the availability of that information would put them at a disadvantage, she said.

A surveillance system is a critical public health function, Levine said, which informs people on how to safely respond to the spread of disease. It’s vital not just for doctors and state leaders, but also for ordinary people making decisions, Levine said.

She said the focus should be on building the reporting infrastructure so it can last into the future, whereas changing it now – in the middle of a pandemic – sends the wrong message to the public.

“It gives a message that this is no longer a high-priority issue,” Levine said.

Dr. Fred Southwick, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida, said data reporting shouldn’t be scaled back until there is significant control of the virus. Florida is far from that – a good metric for control could be only one new case per 100,000 people, he said.

He said reducing the amount and frequency of data would be frustrating for physicians, because then they can’t accurately gauge the risks for a hospitalized patient.

“The basic principle of all public health is it should be available to everyone,” Southwick said. “It is called public health because every individual needs to understand.”

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