“Florida is moving to the next phase of the fight against COVID-19,” the Florida Department of Health wrote in an email statement on Monday. “As the number of vaccinations increased and the number of new cases declined, the Florida Department of Health moved to a weekly reporting schedule.”
Alabama moved on Monday to a new timetable, whereby the state will update case and death data three times a week and vaccination data twice a week.
“Along with the reduction in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will update its dashboard less frequently,” Dr. Karen Landers, an Alabama health officer, wrote Friday.
These changes signal a shift in attitudes towards the pandemic, as the U.S. has averaged about 16,000 new infections per day over the past week – a low rate not seen since the early days of the outbreak.
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Florida reports an average of eight new cases per 100,000 8.5 residents in the past week, while Alabama reports 84 cases, well below their pandemic highs of 87 and 100,000 cases per week, respectively.
Nonetheless, public health experts warn that loosening the data reporting guidelines could be risky given how quickly the outbreak has changed at various points over the past year.
“I think we have to learn from this pandemic that you cannot imagine that change might not happen,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, noting the infection rate in her hometown. city in New York last summer were low, and in winter they rose again.
“If you start to see a trend, even within one week, you can raise the red flag and be vigilant,” she added. “I think it’s a little premature to let my guard down.”
Of course, the last major wave of Covid infections in the US over the winter began even before vaccines became available. However, in Alabama, only 36% of residents have received at least one vaccine, one of the lowest rates in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At 50%, Florida’s numbers are closer to the national rate of 52% of the population, even partially vaccinated, but still lagging behind.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, a senior medical official in Louisiana, said his state switched to providing Covid data five days a week about a month ago, but has no plans to make any changes beyond that.
“I think the daily updates, or at least Monday through Friday, are still relevant and help keep the public informed,” he said.
“We’re by no means out of the woods yet,” Kanter added, despite encouraging trends in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. “We’re doing well, but the general consensus is that the health department is not out of order yet, and I know I’m sending the wrong idea.”
Covid reporting can be resource intensive, and many state governments have struggled to create or update technology systems that could meet unprecedented demands last spring. The data also requires “complex maintenance,” Kanter said, explaining that his department must do things like deduplicate multiple positive tests for a person into a single recorded case in order to keep accurate logs.
“It’s a lot of time, a big investment in staff, but we’re still in a critical public health situation,” he said.
According to the list maintained by John Hopkins, many states have abandoned daily reporting on the progress of the pandemic, and almost 20 countries report five days a week. However, according to Johns Hopkins, Florida is the only state currently reporting both cases and deaths once a week, with only Kansas and Alabama reporting three days a week.
The Alabama Department of Health could not be reached for comment.