The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Lee County climbed sharply in October, a troubling sign heading into what medical experts believe will be a difficult winter battle with the novel coronavirus.
It’s likely that at least a portion of this increase can be attributed to rising cases at Lee County schools and colleges as well as the decision by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to move the state into Phase 3 reopening on Sept. 27. The move allowed for full customer capacity for restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and gyms. At the time, some epidemiologists said the governor’s decision came too soon and would lead to a surge in cases.
According to a News-Press analysis of data compiled by the state Department of Health, Lee reported 3,073 COVID-19 cases last month, 67% more than the 1,843 confirmed in September. The county’s monthly total was just 184 short of the 3,257 counted in August.
One piece of good news for Lee County in October: the jump in COVID-19 cases did not result in a steep rise in verified coronavirus-related deaths. Last month, there were 50 fatalities of Lee residents attributed to the coronavirus, an 11% increase over the 45 reported in September. July was the deadliest month for reported COVID-19 deaths in Lee since the pandemic began with 137.
Lee’s seven-day average for new cases more than doubled during October, going from 56 on Oct. 1 to 146 on Oct. 31, a 161% increase.
October case surges also occurred statewide and nationally, although those increases lagged behind Lee’s rise. In Florida, there were slightly more than 96,000 new COVID-19 cases reported last month, about 16% more than the 83,000 added in September. Nationally, the picture was more concerning as cases climbed nearly 57% with about 1.87 million cases reported. That’s approximately 680,000 more than in September.
In Lee County, October saw 13 days with more than 100 COVID-19 cases reported with an average of 99 new cases per day. However, in the final 10 days of the month, the spike was more pronounced with 1,393 new cases added, an average of about 139 per day.
The U.S. also saw a late October spike with a single-day record 99,321 new cases reported on Friday. In fact, as of Monday, the seven highest days for COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began all came in late October.
The leap in COVID-19 cases was also evident in Lee County’s seven-day average positivity rate, which increased about 2.2 percentage points in October. The rate, which is the average of a day and the previous six days of cases divided by tests, rose from 3.81% on Oct.. 1 to 6.04% on Oct. 31.
The amount of testing for COVID-19 in Lee County rebounded in October after a steady decline since July. The 20,130 tests processed for the county last month was up 21% from September and just 7% less than the 21,673 recorded in July.
Through October, 518 Lee County residents have died of COVID-19, according to the state health department. More than half of those total deaths, or 265 of them, were reported in July and August.
Overall in Florida, COVID-19 deaths dropped to the lowest level since June with 2,444 reported in October. That was about a 22% drop from the 3,130 verified in September.
On Oct. 21, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott A. Rivkees seemed to question the validity of some of the COVID-19 deaths verified that day and said the Department of Health will begin conducting a more thorough review of all fatalities reported to the state. Of those 95 deaths, the state said 16 had at least a two-month separation between the time the individuals tested positive and reportedly died, and 11 had occurred more than a month prior.
However, health experts acknowledge that deaths are a lagging indicator of the COVID-19 infection, often occurring two to eight weeks after the onset of symptoms. The health department also does not track actual dates of death for Florida residents on a county level.
According to the Lee County School District, there were 88 COVID-19 alerts issued during October, compared to 69 in September. The district is not disclosing how many cases are associated with each alert nor whether the alert involved students, teachers, or employees.
On Monday, more than 10,000 students returned to face-to-face learning at Lee County schools for the second quarter after making the switch from virtual learning. That means more than 53,000 students, or 61% of the district’s student enrollment, will be on school campuses for classes for the rest of this semester.
COVID-19 cases at FGCU also showed a dramatic increase in October. The university reported 232 cases last month, more than double the 113 from September.
While school reopenings were one source of COVID-19 concern for medical experts, another is the upcoming holiday season. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has advised Americans to forgo their big, traditional Thanksgiving Day plans.
“It is unfortunate because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition – the family gathering around Thanksgiving,” he said. “But that is a risk.”
Growth in COVID-19 in Lee County
Total cases reported
- March 31: 206
- April 30: 1,021
- May 31: 1,908
- June 30: 5,588
- July 31: 15,416
- Aug. 31: 18,673
- Sept. 30: 20,516
- Oct. 31: 23,589
Total deaths reported
- March 31: 8
- April 30: 43
- May 31: 105
- June 30: 158
- July 31: 295
- Aug. 31: 423
- Sept. 30: 468
- Oct. 31: 518
Total hospitalizations reported
- March 31: N/A
- April 30: N/A
- May 31: 425
- June 30: 593
- July 31: 969
- Aug. 31: 1,371
- Sept. 30: 1,475
- Oct. 31: 1,551
Total tests reported
- March 31: 2,158
- April 30: 11,288
- May 31: 29,317
- June 30: 56,564
- July 31: 107,954
- Aug. 31: 129,607
- Sept. 30: 146,067
- Oct. 31: 166,197
Cumulative percent of people testing positive
- March 31: 9.55%
- April 30: 9.05%
- May 31: 6.51%
- June 30: 9.88%
- July 31: 14.28%
- Aug. 31: 14.41%
- Sept. 30: 14.05%
- Oct. 31: 14.19%
Source: Florida Department of Health