Back when the rest of the state moved to reopening phase 2, Palm Beach County failed to meet the criteria. The Palm Beach County Commission is going to vote Tuesday the 25th on moving forward to phase 2. The criteria to move forward comes from the federal government and is customized by the state and county. That criteria is based on metrics and medical system capacity. Since July, Broward county has provided its citizens with a COVID19 dashboard but Palm Beach County has not. So while Palm Beach County officials have data with which to govern, residents do not.
Since April, the BocaFirst COVID tracker project has collected data for Palm Beach County and Boca Raton because neither the County or City was doing it. Other organizations such as FAU have since come along to help. Our effort has focussed on mining the State of Florida Department of Health’s public data, pulling disparate data together and presenting it all in consumable ways to educate, protect and govern ourselves. Lacking official data from PBC, County residents are left to our own devices to judge. Here’s our take.
In a prelude to the County Commission meeting, the Palm Beach Post reported Dr. Alina Alonso recently lauded the drop in percentage positive adding:
Dr. Alina Alonso said she suspected that all three counties would be allowed to move to Phase 2 at the same time … it was important that all three South Florida counties consider moving to Phase 2 together, pointing out that what happens in one county can affect those around it.Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach County is Not Broward/Dade
In this article, we present data and analysis from our COVID19 tracker project to make the case that Palm Beach County outperformed Broward and Dade counties during the recent surge. In this case, and at this time, the data makes a clear case that Palm Beach County residents, businesses and healthcare systems have earned the right to a reopening decision separate from Broward and Miami-Dade counties. In as much as a community’s behavior affects this pandemic more than government policy, our behavior and systems have together bested Broward and Dade county’s. We have proven that even when Broward surged to stress its medical system, it did not spread to Palm Beach County. That overflow never happened. Our fate should not be tied to theirs in this case and at this time. If you agree, email the county commission here.
County Reopening: What does the data say?
From the beginning, we collected data on four metrics about the three counties during the pandemic. We don’t know what data Dr Alonso is using for her recommendation that they should be tied together but if counties affect each other, why stop at Palm Beach? Why not include Martin and Collier? Something as important as reopening a county needs to stand on its own and our officials should have the strength and fortitude to do so. Time to lead.
Below are the four key metrics in our BocaFirst Weekly Big Picture Tracker. PBC is shown in dark grey. Normalized for population size, PBC had half the cases of Broward and a third of Dade while maintaining a sufficient level of testing. PBC hospitalizations were lower than both counties through the surge and the same is true for deaths. Again, normalized for population size, PBC deaths during the surge were half that of Broward/Dade.
What is a fair measure of COVID19 illness in the county?
Floridians are fortunate so much data was instantly available at the outbreak. However, the medical reporting system of hospitals, doctors and labs was designed as a system that was updated periodically (weekly, monthly …). It was not designed to provide realtime data but it has been treated as such. Those trying to track the COVID19 pandemic are familiar with the problems this caused when a hospital, or lab reported a weeks of data all at once.
QUESTION: So how bad is the COVID19 illness in PBC vs Broward and Dade?
ANSWER: The number of COVID19 infected people requiring hospital beds is a realtime measure of the serious cases in a population. Deaths are another.
Hospitalizations are no longer a measure of illness. Hospitals typically operate at near 90% ICU capacity. When the only hospitalizations were only COVID19, that was a fair measure. But since mid May, hospitals have been open for all illnesses and treatments rendering that measure inaccurate. However, at the end of July, the state did something smart. They started reporting how many hospital beds were in use for each county where the primary diagnosis was COVID19.
Again, while Broward and Dade experienced a hospital surge that pushed them to capacity and activated overflow plans, Palm Beach County did not. Our “Sunbelt Surge” did not overflow to Palm Beach County. In fact, the percentage of beds in PBC used by COVID19 patients was at or below the average for the state which was not true for Broward and Dade. In PBC, the average percentage of beds used for COVID19 during the surge was .03% of the population. As of this writing, the percentage of beds used for COVID19 in PBC is .017% of the population.
How does PBC stack up against the state and federal criteria to reopen?
There’s a selection of statistical histories since the beginning of our project at the bottom of this article. Take a look at how we’re doing as a county. As for the the criteria to move to another phase of reopening, they are based on 6 metrics for the last two weeks and the trajectory of those metrics. In addition, they include the capacity in a county’s medical system to handle outbreaks that occur as a result of more reopening. Below are graphics from our data for the 6 metrics plus a historical trend of hospital bed availability going back to when we started collecting it at the start of the “Sunbelt Surge”.
Something as important as reopening a county needs to stand on its own and our officials should have the strength and fortitude to do so. Time to lead.