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15,000 daily: That's how many coronavirus cases models predict the Tampa Bay area will see by January

Experts are closely monitoring counties around Tampa Bay.

TAMPA, Fla. — Like the spaghetti models used to track storms coming our way, mathematical projections for COVID-19 are helping scientists predict how many cases Florida will see.

"When COVID, broke out, naturally those of us who are working in disease modeling started thinking about, you know, can we build models? But not just building mathematical models and getting publications, but also to help policymakers," Dr. Edwin Michael said. 

The epidemiologist with USF Public Health used to provide mathematical simulations for the World Health Organization. He says Florida is starting its second wave now.

"When we look at, people freely moving and the proportion of people not wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing, it's dropped recently. Immediately, it has given rise to a spike in cases," Michael said.

He created SEIRcast back when he was working for the University of Notre Dame. The portal models COVID-19 in 14 states. Mid-pandemic, funding for the website came from the University of South Florida. When Florida reached its peak in cases, Dr. Michael moved to Tampa and made the transition to be on USF Public Health's staff.

"The Tampa surge planning committee or group, they meet every two weeks, and we supply the predictions. They want to know what is going on two weeks ahead. You know, what will be the cases that they should be expecting? They just want to have a ballpark, you know, what might happen, when is the next peak going to occur," Michael said.

With a whole bunch of code and equations, the website automatically pulls data daily from Johns Hopkins and is able to forecast the pandemic from the state and county level.

"The way the model works is, if the current social measures are maintained over the simulation period, this is what you can expect. But of course, you can say, 'What if we increase the social measures? Mandate facemask wearing? Increase physical distancing? We can also simulate those scenarios," Michael said.

To help lawmakers and hospitals in Tampa Bay plan what to do the next few months, Dr. Michael is tracking Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk counties. The models estimate the four counties will see 900-1,000 cases daily in November. Michael says that will increase to 7-8,000 by December, and 15,000 daily by January.

"We predict like, on January 17, we are going to hit the next peak. The daily cases will be 15,000 daily cases and that's going to overwhelm your hospital capacity. These are the trade-offs," Michael said. 

Cases will still rise, but Michael suggests some restrictions be put back in place and everyone wear a mask to help push the curve down.

"I do understand people getting fed up, and many people are fed up right now wondering how long this will last, but the reason for that is people have not been practicing this. It's very simple. We could have killed this epidemic. The first wave, we should have killed it. We reopen far too early and that is why we are having this problem," Michael said.

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