Coronavirus outbreak data for Florida schools may arrive Monday

'We’re going to find cases,' epidemiologist says
Posted at 7:14 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 19:14:48-04

Statewide reports showing which of Florida's public schools have COVID-19 cases could be coming as soon as next week, according to a group of attorneys working to secure the info on behalf of media outlets nationally and across the state.

While Florida Health has yet to confirm the details directly, attorneys with the Tampa-based law firm Thomas & LoCicero PL said Florida Department of Health officials had told them to expect publishing of the outbreak reports Monday.

"The plan is to present the data format for the public facing COVID-19 website to the surgeon general so that he can approve how it looks and what will be disclosed," said Attorney Mark Caramanica in an email to media members. "That should occur by the end of the week, with the plan to publish on Monday and update weekly thereafter."

Whether the data will look like reports Florida Health accidentally released online last month is unknown. The data had listed school cases by county.

Caramanica said it was unclear if that amount of detail would return after conversations with DOH counsel.

"While she did not know the exact format of what data will be presented, I stressed our desire that it include facility breakdowns similar to what was done with the LTCF numbers," Caramanica said in the email. "She acknowledged that, and the fact that DOH is currently sharing that specific data with local school districts (that as you know are beginning to publish their specific data)."

Florida Health has promised it would deliver school outbreak data for weeks. Most recently during an Aug. 31 news conference with the governor and Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.

“We’re in the process of making a report,” Rivkees had said. “We’re trying to put together what is the best report that actually, truly captures what the instance of cases are…”

Rivkees didn't offer a specific date.

“We wanted to get children back in schools, but we said we wanted to do it safely,” said Professor Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida.

Salemi has been eager to get his hands on a report. He said the data will offer a clearer picture of the state’s progress.

“We’re going to find cases -- that is undoubtedly going to happen in most schools, I would say," Salemi said. "But, our ability to identify them -- keep them to small numbers, keep them from spreading … Our ability to track that information is going to be extremely vital to understanding how well we’re doing.”

Florida isn’t alone in its decision to hold off publishing. Many others have as well, citing privacy concerns. But there is a growing list of states deciding school outbreak data is in the public’s interest.

New York is one of the latest, promising this week to publish school info daily once classes begin. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, laid out the concept, Tuesday, during one of his regular pandemic briefings.

“The facts empower people and the facts give people comfort,” said Cuomo. “We’re going to have a COVID report card for every school in the state.”

Michigan is planning to do something similar next week. Tennessee, Colorado, North Carolina and Louisiana already offer school data in various forms.

Floridians will have to wait and see if their state follows suit, and if so, how much info it provides. The good news is when details have fallen short in the past, public outcry has typically gotten health officials to change things.

Here are some takeaways on school outbreak data:

  • Health officials are telling media attorneys it will likely be published Monday
  • The reports are said to be in final reviews
  • They’re expected to be updated weekly
  • And it’s unclear how detailed each will be
  • Other states, like New York, are promising to list outbreaks by school and update numbers daily