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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

UF Study Testing Residents Of The Villages Yields 'Encouraging' Results In Battle Against COVID-19

A resident gets tested for coronavirus at a mobile testing site Monday, March 23, 2020, in The Villages, Fla. The Villages, a retirement community, is one of the largest concentration of seniors in the U.S.
A resident gets tested for coronavirus at a mobile testing site Monday, March 23, 2020, in The Villages, Fla. The Villages, a retirement community, is one of the largest concentration of seniors in the U.S.
A resident gets tested for coronavirus at a mobile testing site Monday, March 23, 2020, in The Villages, Fla. The Villages, a retirement community, is one of the largest concentration of seniors in the U.S.
Credit John Raoux / AP Photo
A resident gets tested for coronavirus at a mobile testing site Monday, March 23, 2020, in The Villages, Fla. The Villages, a retirement community, is one of the largest concentration of seniors in the U.S.

The University of Florida is reporting early findings from its testing of nearly 2,300 people in The Villages for COVID-19. The team that conducted the tests calls the results “encouraging,” but urges continued caution.

Dr. Glenn Morris, who directs the University’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, says his team at UF Health was interested in testing in The Villages because, as the world’s largest 55-plus community, it represents a population that is at increased risk.

Morris explained they were tested in two groups:

“We actually divided the group that we were testing into two groups, one was those who had reported symptoms in advance, and the other were individuals who indicated that they were not having symptoms, but still were concerned about possible exposures, and wanted to know whether they were positive or negative,” Morris told WFSU Monday.

He shared the data that came from a weeks’ worth of testing.

“Of about 900 people with symptoms, we found that 23 were positive for the virus. And what we saw was that the numbers actually seemed to be showing an increase as the week progressed,” Morris said. “We evaluated about 1,400 people who were not having symptoms, and of those only 2 were positives. But again, those positives came at the end of the week.”

Those 25 positive cases coming at the end of the week suggest Morris and team caught things at the beginning of the epidemic curve, he says. But what’s encouraging about the research, Morris says, is that the case number in the community is very low.

“And when you’re still down at this very low level, that’s when the distancing and the staying-at-home recommendations have the greatest impact.  When you reach a point where the disease is widespread, where there are large numbers of people who are impacted, then the impact of these recommendations tends to be less,” Morris explained.

Morris says efforts to slow spread of COVID-19 is crucial, so hospitals don’t get overwhelmed.

Another thing Morris’ team is doing is asking the asymptomatic residents of The Villages they evaluated to participate in a research study, looking at potential risk factors for COVID-19 infection and illness. That’s in an effort to debunk some of the misinformation he sees making the rounds.

“You know, if you turn to social media, there are 100 different things you can find that you should or should not do that may increase or decrease your chance of illness – we have no idea what the real data are, what the real risk factors are in a population like this,” Morris said.

Morris says that study will involve following a number of those individuals over a period of time, collecting information on who gets sick and who doesn’t, how severe the illnesses are – and what behaviors and community interventions can reduce that severity.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.