Analysis: Collier's reported COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations, cases tumbled in February

Dan DeLuca
Naples Daily News

Reported COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths all significantly declined in Collier County during February as the impact from the post-holiday surge dissipated.

According to a Naples Daily News analysis of data compiled by the Florida Department of Health, Collier reported 2,473 COVID-19 cases last month. That’s less than half as many as January, when Collier had 5,304, its second-highest monthly total of the pandemic. It’s also the fewest cases in a month for the county since October’s 1,836.

Florida also saw a steep fall in cases in February, averaging slightly more than 6,700 per day. That’s 48% fewer than the 12,841 the state’s daily average during a record-setting January.  

According to The COVID-19 Tracking Project, U.S. cases dropped 57% last month to around 85,000 cases per day, down from about 197,000 in January.

More:Analysis: Reported COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations in Collier County set pandemic highs in January

This overall reduction in cases, while promising, was not altogether unexpected, said University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins.

“We shouldn’t get too excited because it’s something we expected to see after the high we had over the holidays,” she said. “Even though we’re trending down, we still need to be concerned about the level of cases in our communities.”

Collier County’s seven-day hospitalization rate declined steadily through February, according to data from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. The rate, which is the average of a day and the previous six days of COVID-19 hospitalizations, dropped 27% from a monthly high of 82 patients on Feb. 1 to 60 on Feb. 28.

Reported COVID-19 deaths of Collier residents decreased to 55 in February, down from a pandemic record 72 in January. On average, the state reported a little more than one fewer COVID-19 death per day in Collier County last month than it did in January.

February also marked the first time since October that reported COVID-19 deaths of Collier residents were fewer than the previous month. However, last month’s 55 deaths were the second-highest monthly total of the pandemic for Collier.

Florida reported 4,373 deaths in February, 9% fewer than January’s record of 4,806. However, the state’s average of about 156 deaths per day last month was slightly greater than January’s daily average of 155. Medical and data experts have observed that only about half of the COVID-19 deaths reported by Florida on a given day include people who have died within the previous two weeks. The rest includes dates of deaths from two weeks to as much as two months prior. That means a significant percentage of the COVID-19 deaths reported in Florida last month actually occurred prior to February.

Florida does not report dates of death on a county level because of medical privacy concerns.

Deaths nationwide declined as well in February, averaging 2,537 per day. That was about 18% fewer than January’s daily average of 3,077.

More:COVID-19 deaths: A look at who is dying from the coronavirus in Southwest Florida

Despite the positive signs in COVID-19 measurements heading into March, Prins said the presence of variant strains of the virus in Florida is a cause for concern.

According to the state health department, there were 599 cases associated with the B.1117 variant in Florida through Feb. 28, including six in Collier County.

“This is one that is known to be more transmissible; in simpler terms, it’s easier to get infected,” she said. “If you’re doing activities that may be risky, because that variant has increased transmission, you’ll be more likely to get infected while doing that activity.”

Prins said it's fair to assume there are more variant cases in Florida than have been discovered because of the relatively low amount of genomic surveillance the U.S. does in comparison to other countries.

“You’re only seeing a selection of what’s out there,” she said. “It’s hard to determine how much of a variant there is, but we’ve certainly seen an increase.

“I worry that as we hit the one-year mark of the pandemic and that we have the vaccine rollout, people look at it as if it’s over. The variants could really change things and make life difficult as we try to get rid of COVID-19.”

The number of people vaccinated for COVID-19 in Collier County increased by 84% in February to 81,676 through Sunday. Approximately 88% of people receiving at least one vaccine dose in Collier were age 65 or older, the group most likely to have complications from contracting COVID-19.

However, because younger people have been shown to more likely to be infected and to spread COVID-19 to others, Prins said the increased vaccination rate has little to do with the recent drop in cases among the general population.

More:COVID-19 vaccine tracker: See how many people in Florida have been vaccinated, by county, state

“Even though the older populations tend to have the worse outcomes, they are not the most likely to get infected,” she said. “As we start to get the younger age groups vaccinated, we’ll start to see an effect in lowering cases.”

The recent approval of a third COVID-19 vaccine — the Johnson & Johnson single shot — could begin to put a permanent dent in the spread of the coronavirus, assuming the rollout goes smoothly and people continue to adhere to well-established mitigation precautions, she said.

“In this phase of the pandemic we have a solution, a way out, but we need everyone on board to continue to control cases while we’re getting that solution rolled out,” Prins said. “We are all in the vaccination COVID protection effort together. Continue to wear a mask and take precautions even if you’ve been vaccinated. That is doing your part right now.”

Growth of COVID-19 in Collier County

(All data is cumulative)

Total cases reported

  • March 31: 146
  • April 30: 596
  • May 31: 1,539
  • June 30: 4,225
  • July 31: 9,581
  • Aug. 31: 11,606
  • Sept. 30: 12,751
  • Oct. 31: 14,587
  • Nov. 30: 17,757
  • Dec. 31: 22,506
  • Jan. 31: 27,810
  • Feb. 28: 30,283

Total deaths reported

  • March 31: 1
  • April 30: 19
  • May 31: 49 
  • June 30: 74
  • July 31: 122
  • Aug. 31: 176
  • Sept. 30: 221
  • Oct. 31: 256
  • Nov. 30: 280
  • Dec. 31: 332
  • Jan. 31: 404
  • Feb. 28: 459

Total hospitalizations reported

  • March 31: N/A
  • April 30: N/A
  • May 31: 202
  • June 30: 323
  • July 31: 654
  • Aug. 31: 841
  • Sept. 30: 910
  • Oct. 31: 998
  • Nov. 30: 1,117
  • Dec. 31: 1,260
  • Jan. 31: 1,433
  • Feb. 28: 1,531

Total tests reported

  • March 31: 1,356
  • April 30: 5,497
  • May 31: 16,770
  • June 30: 33,777
  • July 31: 58,570
  • Aug. 31: 70,313
  • Sept. 30: 79,676
  • Oct. 31: 93,250
  • Nov. 30: 109,592
  • Dec. 31: 132,409
  • Jan. 31: 153,010
  • Feb. 28: 168,005

Cumulative percent of people testing positive

  • March 31: 10.77%
  • April 30: 10.84%
  • May 31: 9.18%
  • June 30: 12.51%
  • July 31: 16.36%
  • Aug. 31: 16.51%
  • Sept. 30: 16%
  • Oct. 31: 15.64%
  • Nov. 30: 16.2%
  • Dec. 31: 17%
  • Jan. 31: 18.19%
  • Feb. 28: 18.03%

Source: Florida Department of Health