Slight rise in COVID-19 cases in Sarasota County not a cause for concern, county Health Officer reports

Percentage of positive results low, as testing numbers increase

Editor’s note: The Sarasota News Leader is providing general reporting on the novel coronavirus to readers for free as a public service.

Chuck Henry addresses the County Commission on March 24. File image

Sarasota County Health Officer Chuck Henry has found no reason to be concerned about the uptick in Sarasota County cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, as shown in the latest data from the Florida Department of Health, he told The Sarasota News Leader on June 11.

The county case count remains steady but generally low, Henry told the News Leaderthrough G. Steve Huard, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. “He does not see an upward or downward trend at this time, just steady,” Huard emphasized of Henry’s observation.

This week, a number of publications have reported on the climb in cases in various counties, especially in the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ allowing the reopening of many businesses and services that he ordered closed in March in an effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If we compare the [Sarasota County] numbers from the latest two week period,” Huard continued in his email, “there were 47 positive cases reported [from May 27 through June 2] and 55 positive cases [from June 3 through June 9]. While that was a week-to-week increase of eight cases, he wrote, “one also has to consider the total tests reported,” as well as the percentage of those found to be positive.

For the period from May 27 through June 2, Huard noted, a total of 4,294 total cases were reported, including the 47 positive cases, for a 1.1% positive rate.

For the period of June 3 to June 9, he continued, a total of 7,184 tests were reported, including the 55 positive cases, for a 0.76% positive rate.

In the state Health Department data for Sarasota County released on the morning of June 11, the total number of people reported to have COVID-19 since the pandemic began was 716. Of those, 693 were Florida residents, the chart noted.

This is the June 11 data for Sarasota County, as posted that morning by the Florida Department of Health. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health

The total number of deaths recorded was 89, representing 13% of all cases, the chart said. Further, 169 hospitalizations had been reported, reflecting 24% of all cases.

Henry has told the County Commission that the higher death rate in the county is a factor associated with the higher percentage of older residents.

The June 11 state chart showed the median age of county residents who had tested positive was 62, with the range of ages from infancy to 104.

This June 10 chart produced by the Florida Department of Health shows testing data for Sarasota County. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health

“We continue to encourage all residents to practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and wear cloth facemasks whenever social distancing cannot be maintained,” Huard pointed out in his email. “Our community has been excellent in following these measures and they remain our best method to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections.”

During his June 3 update to the County Commission, Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, noted that the most recent data reflecting county Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls showed that 18% of the responses involved patients reporting COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms.

On April 22, during his report that day, Collins said the number of calls for COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms as of that time represented 21.6% of the total received by the Sarasota County Fire Department.

The number of EMS calls is averaging about 190 per day, he added on June 3, “which matches [the figure] for the last two years of service” for this time of year.

Further, Collins said that, as of that morning, 49% of ICU beds were occupied in the community’s hospitals, and 58% of all beds were occupied.

Among other recent materials the News Leader reviewed, the June 10 “heat map” produced by county staff, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, showed a climb in cases in South County, especially in the 34288 zip code, which includes North Port neighborhoods.

This is the June 10 county ‘heat map.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

Each heat map provides COVID-19 case counts by zip code for the previous 14 days.

More positive cases also were indicated in areas outside the city of Sarasota, where the majority of earlier cases were reported. The June 10 map shows higher counts in Southgate, for example, as well as a section of the county that is south of Bee Ridge Road and west of Interstate 75.

This is the area of the 34233 zip code. Image from
This is the area of the 34239 zip code. Image from

In each news release the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County issues, staff reminds the public “that the elderly and those with underlying medical problems,” such as high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, “are more likely to develop serious illness.”

The news releases also emphasize, “If you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, follow the steps below to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community:

  • Stay home except to get medical care.
  • Do not go to work or public areas. “Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.”