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Doctors warn against dropping social measures before vaccines are more widely available

"It's a fallacy to think that because the vaccines are there...that is the main reason why the cases are falling," said Dr. Edwin Michael of USF.

TAMPA, Fla — Despite Florida dropping the vaccine eligibility age to 60 on Monday and millions of more doses becoming available nationwide, researchers say relaxed attitudes about masks and social distancing as vaccines become more available could lead to a COVID-19 resurgence.

"It's a fallacy to think that because the vaccines are there...that is the main reason why the cases are falling,” said Dr. Edwin Michael of the University of South Florida. "As soon as you stop complying with social measures...the cases will begin to start rising again.”

The government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci reiterated this point over the weekend on CNN’s "State of the Union.

"Even though the numbers have gone down, over the last couple of weeks, they've plateaued. And when you see a plateau at a level as high as 60,000 cases a day, that is a very vulnerable time to have a surge to go back up,” Fauci said. “That's what exactly happened in Europe. They had a diminution of cases. They plateaued. And they pulled back on public health measures."

In new COVID-19 models released last week specifically covering the Tampa Bay area, Michael and Dr. Ken Newcomb show that the area’s current vaccination rate is not enough to begin fully relaxing social restrictions like masks and social distancing.

"What if you fully release social measures on the first of July? Look at what happens, it'll just come back," Michael said.

Michael and Newcomb’s models show an exponential rise in cases if those social measures are relaxed in July. However, they say if vaccinations increase by 5 times the current rate, there would only be a small increase in cases, and the pandemic will begin to phase out completely.

Still, models show a 14-percent chance of the pandemic re-emerging. It doesn't sound like a lot, but researchers say that number should be less than 5 percent. 

"This is an exponential disease, it will start, you know, spreading like wildfire,” Michael said. “You don't want to give it any counts of re-emergence.”

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