After a summer that saw a surge in coronavirus cases, a spike in hospitalizations and an increase in deaths, cases in Florida declined and then seemed to plateau.
But recent numbers from the Florida Department of Health are showing a 30% increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the state, now totaling more than 768,000 cases statewide and more than 16,000 deaths.
One thing that's changed: three weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state into Phase 3 and lifted capacity restraints on businesses.
“And we've seen people congregating in more crowds than they had been before,” said Marissa Levine, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida.
“And this is about the time we would start to see increases, which we are, and probably shortly after that we'll see increases in hospitalizations, too.”
Levine said group gatherings, in combination with colder weather, are causing the spike.
"It appears that cold weather in the further northern parts of our country are increasing transmission, probably partly because people are in closer confines. The issue is that Florida being a tourist destination, often receives many people from those areas,” Levine said.
Levine said mixed messaging from federal and state officials, some of which often contradict local ordinances, doesn’t help.
She says the best ways to mitigate the spread of the virus remain wearing face coverings, staying 6- to 10-feet apart and washing hands regularly.
“One of the things we learned about is that we can actually live with COVID. We can't necessarily do things the way we did; we've had to re-engineer some space. And we've had to wear masks,” Levine said.
“But the critical thing about the phase reopening is really the communication in the messaging. And I'm afraid that the way it was done gave many people the impression, or supported their impression, that, ‘Hey, the worst is passed. That's something I don’t have to worry anymore.’ ”