Florida and Alabama will no longer report daily Covid cases and deaths as vaccinations rise and states begin moving into the “next phase” of the pandemic.
Florida rolled out a weekly Covid data reporting plan on Friday, the state emergency management department said on its website.
“Florida is moving into the next phase of the COVID-19 response,” the Florida Department of Health wrote in a statement emailed Monday. “As vaccinations go up and the positivity rate of new cases declines, the Florida Department of Health has put in place a weekly reporting schedule.”
Alabama introduced a new schedule on Monday in which the state updates case and death dates three times a week and vaccination dates twice a week.
“In addition to decreasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will update its dashboard less frequently,” wrote Dr. Karen Landers, an Alabama health officer, in a news release on Friday.
The changes signal a shift in attitudes towards the pandemic, as the U.S. averaged around 16,000 new infections per day over the past week, a low number that has not been seen since the early days of the outbreak.
Florida reported an average of eight new cases per 100,000 residents last week and Alabama reported about 8.5 cases, well below their pandemic highs of 84 and 87 per 100,000, respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Still, public health experts warn that relaxing data reporting guidelines could be risky as the nature of the outbreak has changed rapidly in various places over the past year.
“I think we have to learn from this pandemic that you can’t just imagine that there will be no change,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, noted that infection rates were high in her hometown of New York were low last summer before skyrocketing again in winter.
“If you start to see a trend, even after a week, you can fly a red flag and be vigilant,” she added. “I think it’s a little premature to let our vigilance down.”
Of course, the last great wave of Covid infections in the US started over the winter before vaccines were available. In Alabama, however, only 36% of residents have had at least one injection, one of the lowest rates in the country, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. At 50%, the numbers in Florida are closer to the statewide rate of 52% of the population who are at least partially vaccinated, but still lagging behind.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the chief medical officer in Louisiana, said his state started reporting Covid data five days a week about a month ago but has no plans to make any changes beyond that.
“I think the daily updates, at least Monday through Friday, are still relevant and helpful in informing the public,” he said.
“We’re still a long way from the woods,” added Kanter, despite encouraging trends in cases, hospitalizations and death rates. “We’re really fine, but the general feeling is that the health department is still out of the woods and I’m aware that I’m sending the wrong idea.”
Reporting on Covid data can be resource-intensive, and many state governments have struggled to build or upgrade technology systems that could handle the unprecedented demands last spring. The data is also “maintenance-intensive,” according to Kanter, who stated that his department, for example, needs to deduplicate multiple positive tests for a person in a recorded case in order to keep accurate records.
“It’s a long time, a big manpower investment, but we are still in a public health emergency,” he said.
Many states have ditched daily reporting over the course of the pandemic, with nearly 20 reporting dates five days a week, according to a list maintained by Johns Hopkins. However, Florida is the only state that currently reports both case and death data once a week, and according to Johns Hopkins, only Kansas and Alabama report three days a week.
The Alabama Department of Health was unable to be reached for comment.