Increased Testing and Contact Tracing Capacity Make Florida Leaders Confident to Reopen

May 8, 2020

After facing weeks of criticism, Florida’s leaders feel vindicated in their response to coronavirus. Even though death totals are rising in the state, it appears Florida dodged the worst of the pandemic by some metrics.

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On the Florida Roundup, host Melissa Ross was joined by Dr. Shamarial Roberson, Florida’s Deputy Secretary of Health, to talk about the state’s testing and contact tracing as it reopens. They also discussed concerns about a possible second wave of the virus.

Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

MELISSA ROSS: As you continue to test and trace and try to track the virus as the state opens back up, we're repeatedly hearing from health officials that Floridians continue wearing masks. And if they must go into a store or a business of any kind, stay home when they can to continue to social distance. Do you have any concern that we might be lulled into a false sense of security in the coming weeks and months as these restrictions sort of relax? Could cases spike once again? 

DR. SHAMARIAL ROBERSON: What I have are public health recommendations, and we've been strong on these recommendations from the beginning. And they're working because yesterday we had one of the lowest positivity rates. So, with over 19,000 tests, we had only 1.9 percent to come back as positive, which shows that our public health mitigation strategies are working. As we begin to reopen, it is very important that we continue these mitigation strategies.

One of the most important things that we can do is make sure that we say six feet apart when in public. We're recommending that individuals wear masks while they're in public and interact with other individuals while maintaining the space. In addition to that, we're recommending that people continue good hygiene practices such as washing their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. In addition to that, when soap and water are not available, we recommend individuals to use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol in addition, so that individuals are safe.

We're recommending that they stay home when sick. In addition to that, [another concern is] frequently touched surfaces. As we think about reopening, it is important to ensure that the surfaces are clean and disinfected on a regular basis. So, all of those public health strategies that we've mentioned before, as we reopen, we can do this in a very safe and measured manner.

What about a possible second wave of this virus in the fall that some public health experts have been warning about? We're continuing to get more than 500 positive COVID cases a day. Do we need more contact tracers, then? What is the state putting together? What's the plan for another wave of this?  

ROBERSON: We're continually watching the situation on a day-to-day basis. So we're not just planning for what's going to happen in the next few months. We're continuously watching the situation with data. We're continuously deploying a public health strategy. We're continuously enhancing our communication strategy.

So, making sure that we are armed and ready to go every day is a priority of the department. So we are prepared for what's happening now. We're always hoping for the best, preparing for anything. And in terms of contact tracing, we have the operational staff needed. Now we have the potential to surge up. And we will continue to explore options to enhance those contact tracing strategies so that we're poised. Our public health strategies have worked in the past, which is represented in our numbers, and we will continue to be poised and watching the situation on a daily basis.