Florida and Alabama will no longer report daily Covid cases and fatalities as vaccinations rise and states begin shifting to the “next phase” of the pandemic.
On Friday, Florida implemented a weekly reporting schedule for Covid data, the state’s Division of Emergency Management said on its website.
“Florida is transitioning into the next phase of the COVID-19 response,” the Florida Department of Health wrote in an emailed statement Monday. “As vaccinations increase and new case positivity rate decreases, the Florida Department of Health has moved to a weekly reporting schedule.”
Alabama moved to a new schedule on Monday in which the state will update case and death data three times a week and vaccination data twice a week.
“Along with decreases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will be updating its dashboard less frequently,” wrote Dr. Karen Landers, an Alabama area health officer, in a release Friday.
The changes signal a shift in attitudes toward the pandemic as the U.S. averages about 16,000 new infections per day over the past week, a low level not seen since the early days of the outbreak.
Florida is reporting an average of 8 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week and Alabama about 8.5 cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, far below their pandemic highs of 84 and 87 per 100,000, respectively.
Still, public health experts warn that it might be risky to loosen data reporting guidelines given how quickly the nature of the outbreak has changed at various points over the past year.
“I think we have to learn from this pandemic that you can’t just imagine that change may not happen,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia University, noting that infection levels in her home city of New York were low last summer before surging again over the winter.
“If you start to see a trend, even over one week, you can raise a red flag and be vigilant about it,” she added. “I think it’s a bit premature to let down our guard.”
Of course, the last major wave of Covid infections in the U.S. over the winter began before vaccines were available. In Alabama, however, only 36% of residents have received at least one shot, one of the lowest rates in the country, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. At 50%, Florida’s numbers are closer to the nationwide rate of 52% of the population at least partially vaccinated, but still lag.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the top medical official in Louisiana, said that his state shifted to 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, or at least Monday through Friday, are still pertinent and inform the public in a helpful way,” he said.
“We’re not out of the woods by any means yet,” Kanter added, despite encouraging trends in case, hospitalization, and death counts. “We’re doing really well, but the general sense is that the health department is still not out of the woods and I am cognizant of sending the wrong idea.”
Covid data reporting can be resource-intensive, and many state governments scrambled to build or update technology systems that could handle the unprecedented requirements last spring. The data is also “high-maintenance,” according to Kanter, who explained that his department has to do things like de-duplicate multiple positive tests for an individual into one recorded case in order to maintain accurate logs.
“It is a lot of time, a big staff investment, but we continue to be in a public health emergency,” he said.
Many states have moved away from daily reporting over the course of the pandemic, with nearly twenty reporting data five days a week, according to a list maintained by Hopkins. Florida is the only state currently reporting both case and death data once per week, however, and only Kansas and Alabama are reporting three days a week, according to Hopkins.
The Alabama Department of Public Health could not be reached for comment.