COVID positivity rate falls again, to 8.82%

Sarasota County case total drops about 15%, but more patients in ICU beds

After climbing again last week, Sarasota County’s COVID positivity rate has fallen once more — this time, to 8.82%, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported, based on a seven-day average of data through Feb. 19.

That is the lowest level since mid-October 2022, when the positivity rate was 9.17%, as the CDC noted at the time.

The seven-day average through Feb. 12 was 11.14%, as The Sarasota News Leader reported last week.

Additionally, the number of new COVID cases recorded in the county has declined, as shown in the most recent CDC reports. The total the federal agency recorded in the county over the seven days through Feb. 15 was 287, which the agency said reflected a 10.31% drop from its previous seven-day calculation. The Feb. 15 figure was down nearly 15% from the agency’s Feb. 8 tally over the seven days through that date, which was 320.

The Feb. 8 total had marked a jump from the 229 figure the CDC reported on Feb. 1.

In its Feb. 23 weekly status update for Sarasota County, the CDC put the case rate at 66.17 per 100,000 people, reflecting data that the agency had received over the seven days through that date.

However, the CDC also noted that, over the seven days through Feb. 20, it had confirmed 50 new COVID patient admissions to county hospitals. That number was up nearly 52%, compared to the Feb. 13 figure of 33.

Nonetheless, among other new data this week, the CDC reported that, over the seven days through Feb. 20, the number of county hospital beds occupied by COVID patients represented 3.1% of the total. That also was down. The seven days of data collected through Feb. 13 put the figure at 3.3%.

Conversely, the total number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds occupied by COVID patients over the seven days through Feb. 20 represented 5.4% of the total, the CDC pointed out. That was higher than the 4.8% calculation for the seven days through Feb. 13, which had been unchanged from the Feb. 6 figure the CDC reported.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) data has tended to reflect the CDC’s latest figures over the past week. The highest number of COVID patients the health care system has reported on a given day at its Venice and Sarasota campuses was 55, on Feb. 20. By Feb. 23, the figure was down to 49.

The highest tally SMH reported for the previous week was 59.

As for those patients receiving ICU care: From Feb. 17 through Feb. 23, the highest count was four, which SMH reported on Feb. 17 and Feb. 22. The lowest figure was two, on Feb. 20.

Additionally, the health care system noted that its COVID positivity rate was 6.6% as of Feb. 23. For the week ending Feb. 17, the figure was 6.4%.

As for new COVID deaths in the county: The CDC indicated that the number was less than 10 over the seven days through Feb. 15. However, CDC chart also noted — as the agency does from time to time — that the reporting of deaths had been “suppressed.” That is a reference to the fact that, almost exactly a year ago, the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee stopped providing regular COVID updates to the CDC. In March 2022, the state department announced it would switch to updating its data every other week, as the Tampa Bay Times noted then.

SMH has recorded three more deaths of COVID patients over the past week. Since the first pandemic cases were identified in the county in March 2020, the health care system’s total — through Feb. 23 — was 767. Two more deaths were tallied over the weekend of Feb. 18-19, based on the hospital’s reports.

The CDC did shift Sarasota County’s COVID transmission status to “Low” again this week. Last week, as the News Leader noted, the agency raised the classification to “Medium,” after two previous updates put it at “Low.”

The CDC’s map showing the transmission level for all 67 counties as of Feb. 16 — reflecting data collected from Feb. 9 through Feb. 15 — showed the majority of the counties marked with the “Low” classification. In Southwest Florida, only Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties were designated with “Medium” transmission levels.

On the eastern side of the state, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee all were in the “Medium” category.

The only counties with the “High” classification remained in the swath that the CDC has shown for weeks, in the north-central part of the state from just south of the Georgia border to just south of the Panhandle. That group includes Hamilton, Columbia, Alachua, Levy and Dixie counties.

A News Leader check of vaccination data for Sarasota County found little change over the past few weeks. As of Feb. 23, only 35.8% of all county residents age 65 and older had received the most recent, bivalent booster, which was formulated to attack more variants of the coronavirus. Out of the total population age 5 and up, 18.9% had received that booster.

The CDC’s Jan. 19 vaccination chart for the county showed that 34.3% of residents age 65 and up had received the bivalent booster, while the figure for those 5 and older was 18%.