County Health Department collaborates with county staff on ‘heat maps’ to track cases by zip code
Editor’s note: The Sarasota News Leader is providing general reporting on the novel coronavirus to readers for free as a public service.
As the Sarasota City Commission conducted a workshop on the afternoon of April 6, City Manager Tom Barwin reported that 151 cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, had been confirmed in the county.
The first county case, involving a Manatee County resident at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, was reported on social media on March 1. That also was the first documented case in the state, Chuck Henry, director of the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, told the County Commission during its April 8 meeting.
Almost exactly an hour before the City Commission workshop began, the Florida Department of Health was reporting a total of 13,324 cases in the state, with 12,925 of those involving residents. The death count stood at 236.
And approximately 24 hours later, the number of positive test results among Florida residents had climbed to 14,065, with a total of 14,504 cases altogether and 283 deaths.
By the time the Florida Department of Health issued its 11:40 a.m. report on April 8, the total number of confirmed cases in the state had jumped to 15,456, with 15,003 Florida residents diagnosed. The death total was 309.
Another jump was noted in the 12:08 p.m. report on April 9, when the case total hit 16,364. The number of state residents diagnosed with the virus was 15,883, and the death toll had climbed to 354.
In an effort to keep track of all the cases in the county, City Manager Barwin explained to the city commissioners on April 6, Sarasota County staff had collaborated with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County to create a daily “heat map,” assigning cases by zip code. As of that afternoon, he continued, the 34236 zip code had the largest number of cases per capita in North County, with 15. Siesta Key — with seven cases — and Longboat Key — with 12 — also had high numbers per capita, he noted.
At 11 a.m. on April 8, the number of cases in the 34236 zip code had climbed to 16, while the Siesta and Longboat numbers remained the same.
Anyone wishing to view the daily map should go to the city’s website, Barwin said (www.sarasotafl.gov) and click on the “COVID-19 Information” link. Then, the person should click on “COVID-19 Resources” and scroll down to “Sarasota County Flash Reports.”
Alternatively, the public may visit the county website — http://www.scgov.net and click on the “COVID-19” button on the homepage. After accessing the COVID-19 webpage, look for the Resources box on the right-hand side, and then click on the daily heat maps.
After reviewing several of those county maps in comparison with Florida Department of Health reports for positive cases in municipalities, The Sarasota News Leader asked G. Steve Huard, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, about differences in the figures. For example, on April 6, the state report listed just one case on Siesta Key and two on Longboat Key within Sarasota County.
In an April 7 email, Huard explained, “The reason the data in our local map is different is because it was designed to be used locally as a planning map. The way the state reports data is by zip code of residence. The local map incorporates data based on physical address at the time of illness so that we can better understand disease transmission and prevalence in our community. It was designed as a planning tool for our community. Examples of differences include removing cases that have a Sarasota zip code if they were physically not here when they acquired the illness and adding cases that are listed as non-residents if they were physically here when they acquired the illness.”
Along with the county “heat maps,” the “Flash Reports” link on the city website provides a map of the United States with color coding for each state. The colors are used to indicate a range for the numbers of cases. As of April 8, that U.S. map put Florida in a grouping with Washington, New York, California, Texas, Michigan and others reporting more than 5,000 cases.
“COVID-19 is in place throughout the entire county east of I-75,” Barwin told the city commissioners.
As of April 7, the Flash Report said, the county total had climbed to 172; 158 of those were county residents. And its April 7 update at 4 p.m., Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) reported the deaths of two more patients.
The following afternoon, on April 8, SMH announced that one more patient had died, bringing that total to eight. Additionally, two more staff members had tested positive since the April 7 update, bringing that total to 11.
As of the 4:30 p.m. on April 8, Public Information Officer Kim Savage reported, the hospital was caring for 32 inpatients with the illness.
“SMH has tested more than 870 people, with 735 negative results, 72 positive results and 62 results pending,” Savage wrote.
Forty-four people who tested positive “have been discharged from the hospital or [the Emergency Room] with follow-up monitoring by the Florida Department of Health,” she noted.
Then, by 10 a.m. on April 9 — the last state report available before the News Leader’s publication deadline this week — the number of cases in Sarasota County had hit the 190 mark, with 177 of those being Florida residents.
The eight county residents whose deaths were noted in the state report ranged in age from 28 to 88; six of them were males.
Just after 5 p.m. on April 10, SMH reported yet another death, putting the total at nine.
Henry of the Health Department in Sarasota County told the county commissioners this week that the illness had been confirmed in patients ranging in age from infancy to 99. “[COVID-19] is affecting … all ages in our county,” he added.