TAMPA, Fla. — Scientists and data modelers tracking COVID-19 cases in the Tampa Bay area predict between 4,300 and 6,000 cases per day by the end of August, beginning of September if face masks and social distancing measures are not implemented to control the surge.
"That'll stop the spread in its tracks,” said Dr. Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, who studies global infectious diseases.
Dr. Michael cited three reasons for the drastic spike in cases that is only forecasted to grow over the next month. He said a drop in vaccinations, a decline in social measures like masks and social distancing along with the delta variant are causing cases to soar.
“Now, vaccination rates have dropped about 85-percent from April to what it is currently,” said Dr. Michael, who noted the county is only vaccinating about 1,200 people per day. “So, it has just collapsed. People are not taking up the vaccines, and therefore what that has done is left a lot of people susceptible.”
According to Dr. Michael, while vaccinations do need to increase to achieve herd immunity, increasing vaccinations now will not stop the coming wave.
“It's far too late now to ramp up vaccinations,” he said. “Remember, you need to have two doses, right? Three weeks apart. We are now already in August, and we were saying that was the end of August, we're going to get the wave…so, that — so this is not going to be enough time for vaccines to work. It’s far too late."
Over the weekend, Florida had a record-breaking number of daily COVID-19 cases with more than 21,000 reported. Cases from the state currently account for about 20-percent of all new cases across the country.
"We stand ready and available to provide any assistance that is needed, whether that is Florida or any other part of the country,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Monday during her daily press briefing.
She added there are ample resources available, and also encouraged social distancing and masks. Psaki also emphasized the importance of the latter, particularly in schools.
“There are steps and precautions that can be taken, including encouraging people to get vaccinated, encouraging people to wear masks, including allowing schools to mandate masks. And allowing kids to wear masks, which is not the current state of play in Florida,” she said. “At a certain point, leaders are going to have to choose whether they're going to follow public health guidelines or they're going to follow politics and we certainly encourage all governors to follow the public health guidelines.”
Governor Ron DeSantis has been resistant to mask mandates, especially in schools.
“That's not happening in Florida, OK? We need our children to breathe,” he said last month.
Dr. Michael said children will be at-risk this coming academic year as schools reopen and increasing vaccinations will help reduce the burden on health care providers and hospitals. He also said data predicts hospitalizations will outpace bed capacity in the Tampa Bay area by about 800, causing delays to other pressing medical procedures.
“So, this is another aspect that people are not looking at, that beds will have to be reserved for COVID, which means you're going to take treatment away from other people. And that will in itself going to cause a lot of damage,” he said. “This is real. Florida is not going to escape.”