TAMPA, Fla. — While scientists continue looking at the COVID-19 data from across the country and the state, the numbers are clear. Cases and hospitalizations are dropping.
"I believe the decline is absolutely real," Dr. Thomas Unnasch with USF Public Health said.
For Unnasch, things really are trending in the right direction. The professor says the only numbers that haven't shown a decline yet are for COVID-19 deaths.
"But don't forget the deaths really lag behind. I think we should see a drop in the next 3-4 weeks," Unnasch said.
For now there are 4 reasons that could explain decline in cases:
1. The Seasonality of the Virus
Doctors say anecdotal data shows coronaviruses usually peak in the Winter.
Governor Ron DeSantis echoed that claim in press conference Wednesday morning saying, "It's a seasonal pattern in terms of when it goes up and goes down," epidemiologists say that isn't the case.
Peak time in the state of Florida would be right now in February.
"There is seasonality with respiratory viruses. I would expect to see them go away, but not this early. It's a little too early yet to see that happen. February is actually a peak month, not a low month," Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said.
2. COVID-19 Vaccines
Shots in arms could be helping slow the rate people are getting infected.
Roberts says epidemiologists like herself are looking at data from COVID-19 vaccines.
"The vaccine actually went out for the most part to the people who were at the highest risk. Those that are at the highest risk are the cases that would have been most likely to actually be reported," Roberts said.
But USF Public Health's Mathematical Modeler Dr. Edwin Michael says his models show vaccine distribution has gone too slow.
"Unfortunately the vaccination rollout is far too small to have any impact. It is the social measures, which are playing a major role," Dr. Michael said.
3. COVID-19 Social Measures
Social measures like masks and social distancing could be the key.
"If you're wearing masks and your social distancing, it puts a real dent in the viruses game. I think those are the two reasons that we're really seeing the decline that we're seeing," Dr. Unnasch said.
Plus Unnasch says there's more immunity to COVID-19 now than there was before.
4. Growing COVID-19 Immunity
If you take a look at the sunshine state, nearly 30% of the population has been infected. Another 10% already got a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
That means at least 40% of Florida's population has built an immunity to the virus.
"They're no longer really susceptible to the virus which is going to slow the epidemic down to as well. Because the viruses have a harder time finding people that it can infect. I think all those things really just pretty much explain what we're seeing, which is a nice decline in cases," Unnasch said.
Dr. Unnasch says if we keep doing what we're doing right now we could be out of the woods by the end of the year.
But what we see next is really up to us. Any decrease in the social measures we have right now could lead to another spike in cases in the next few months.