Florida and Alabama will no longer report Covid cases and deaths on a daily basis as vaccinations increase and states begin to move to the “next phase” of the pandemic.
Florida on Friday introduced a weekly schedule for reporting data from Covid, the state’s emergency management department said on its website.
“Florida is moving to the next phase of the COVID-19 response,” the Florida Department of Health wrote in an e-mail statement Monday. “As vaccinations increase and the positive rate of new cases decreases, the Florida Department of Health has moved to a weekly reporting schedule.”
Alabama moved to a new schedule on Monday, in which the state will update the data on cases and deaths three times a week and the data on vaccination twice a week.
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The changes signal a change in attitudes toward the pandemic, as the U.S. average averages about 16,000 new infections a day in the past week, a low level not seen since the early days of the outbreak.
Florida reported an average of eight new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week, and Alabama reported about 8.5 cases, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, well below their pandemic highs of 84 and 87 per 100,000, respectively.
However, public health experts warn that it may be risky to loosen the data reporting guidelines, given how quickly the nature of the outbreak has changed at different times in the last year.
“I think we need to learn from this pandemic that you can’t just imagine that change may not happen,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, noting that infection rates in her hometown of New York were low last summer before rising again in the winter.
“If you start to see a trend, even for more than a week, you can raise a red flag and be vigilant about it,” she added. “I think it’s a little premature to be misled.”
Of course, the latest major wave of Covid infections in the United States in the winter began before vaccines became available. In Alabama, however, only 36% of residents received at least one shot, one of the lowest rates in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 50%, the number of Florida is closer to the national percentage of 52% of the population, at least partially vaccinated, but still lagging behind.
Dr Joseph Canter, a senior medical officer in Louisiana, said his condition had shifted to reporting Covid data five days a week about a month ago, but had no plans to make any changes beyond that.
“I think the daily updates, or at least Monday to Friday, are still relevant and inform the public in a useful way,” he said.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Kanter added, despite encouraging trends in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. “We’re doing really well, but the general point is that the health department is not out of the woods yet, and I’m aware of sending the wrong idea.”
Reporting data can require a lot of resources, and many state governments have tried to create or update technology systems that could handle unprecedented demands last spring. The data is also “highly supported,” according to Kanter, who explained that his department must do things like duplicate multiple positive tests for a person in a recorded case to maintain accurate log files.
“It takes a lot of time, a big investment from the staff, but we continue to be in public health emergencies,” he said.
Many countries have abandoned daily reporting during the pandemic, with nearly twenty data reported five days a week, according to a list maintained by Hopkins. Florida is the only state that currently reports cases and deaths once a week, and only Kansas and Alabama report three days a week, according to Hopkins.
The Alabama Department of Public Health could not be reached for comment.