According to an updated model by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Florida has the potential to be the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
The projections point to the rising number of cases in Hillsborough County and surrounding areas over the past few weeks.
“After Hillsborough started to really go up, over the last week or two we’ve now really seen a dramatic migration of this epidemic across the state to Orlando and up and down the east coast,” said Dr. David Rubin, a researcher at PolicyLab.
He said the elevated risks are demonstrated, not only by their projections, but by the rise in case counts and hospitalizations in the area.
The Tampa Bay area set a new daily record Thursday, with 711 more people testing positive within 24 hours. The increase is 160 more than the record high posted Wednesday.
At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Ron DeSantis blamed the surge in positive cases on the increased testing happening across the state. But Rubin says their forecasts account for that.
“Our goal has always been to reopen communities, but to reopen them safely,” he said, “Communities need to be guided by regularly changing forecasts that could allow them to have an honest conversation with their leaders and among community members about the ways they can adopt routines in order to safely manage transmission.”
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said the increase in cases is not a surprise, but the change in demographic -- from the elderly to young adults -- is.
In recent days, the average age for positive coronavirus cases has dropped from over 65 to between 25 and 34.
“The problem is that as younger people circulate more in the community. Now the greater chance of infection begins to affect our workforce,” Merrill said. “It has a greater influence on those who are in their most productive income years, those who are driving our economy.”
This week, both St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor mandated that all employees within the city limits wear masks while working with the public.
Kriseman said he is also pursuing another order that would require all residents wear masks while in public, and a similar measure is under consideration in Hillsborough County.
Rubin said the entire state of Florida should adopt this policy, since wearing masks in indoor locations is the best way to slow down the spread of the virus.
“I think we've seen enough in Texas, Arizona, and Florida to know that this can't be voluntary,” he said. “That the wearing of masks in indoor crowded locations where those transmission events occur the most protects those individuals and consumers that are in there, the people behind the cash register who don't have the choice on how to protect themselves.”
“And then most especially in a place like Florida, protects the traveler and the community that person is traveling through.”
He said that although it may feel like an infringement on our personal freedoms at times, wearing masks is the trade-off for reopening until we “get that vaccine that we’re all hoping for later this fall.”