As videos of maskless fans crowded together surfaced after the Buccaneers’ big Super Bowl win, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County already had a plan to trace any potential outbreaks.
"We sent out a notice through a CDC-run program called Epi-X, basically just saying that if anyone identifies cases associated with the Super Bowl, to provide notification to us here in Tampa,” said Dr. Michael Wiese, epidemiologist with FLDOH in Hillsborough County.
According to the CDC, Epi-X has about 6,000 users in local health departments, poison control centers, federal and public health organizations. It allows those users to share data and reports related to public health and safety. The system has been used throughout the pandemic and amid other outbreaks.
"We've used it in the past with things associated with arboviral diseases, with Hepatitis A when we were dealing with the Hepatitis A outbreak throughout the state, lots of notices would go out,” said Dr. Wiese.
This national system is a way for Hillsborough to get data from other states to understand if the Super Bowl and the subsequent celebrations truly were superspreader events.
"It has the potential to have nationwide impact,” said Dr. Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida.
However, Dr. Roberts of USF says the drawback is not everyone who contracts the virus reports their cases.
"Those cases that never got tested, never reported, we have no idea that they're actually linked to this particular outbreak,” she said.
So, to truly want to gain control of a virus that fights every effort to be tamed, doctors say everyone must do their part.
"The people who do get sick need to report they're sick. They need to actually get tested so we know...but if nobody reports, we have no data,” she said.
Dr. Jill Roberts also says because Florida has a high number of COVID-19 variant cases, there is concern that those who traveled here could pick it up and spread it to other locations.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County health department said it will take a few weeks to a month for people to start reporting cases and for other jurisdictions to file reports in the Epi-X system.
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