MIAMI – With Floridians lining up by the tens of thousands for COVID tests across the state this week, University of Florida researchers predict that cases in the Sunshine State, driven by the new omicron variant, could peak in February with more than 30,000 reported cases a day.
The report by three UF researchers said the actual number of infections, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, could be significantly higher — up to 150,000 infections a day — under the most likely scenario in Florida.
“The number of projected infections is much larger than the number of reported cases because many infections are not reported, especially if they are asymptomatic or mild," the report released late last week said.
At the beginning of the month, Florida had a seven-day average of just over 1,400 cases, though that number has grown significantly as the omicron variant has spread. As of Monday, Florida had a seven-day average of more than 8,600 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have seen this omicron variant rapidly spreading like wildfire, especially as we head into the holiday season,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Wednesday at a news conference announcing new efforts to combat the virus in Florida's most populous county.
Those efforts include a return to requiring masks at all county buildings and the opening of more COVID testing sites since demand has exploded in the past week across the county, as well as the state.
Levine Cava also said she has asked the federal government for more monoclonal antibody treatments, which are used to treat those who have fallen ill with the virus. There has been a shortage of the treatment across the country.
The Miami-Dade mayor said the best thing anybody could to protect against the new variant is to get vaccinated.
In response to the spreading new variant, Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood said Wednesday it would limit most visitors, with exceptions made for end-of-life patients, labor and delivery, as well as pediatric and special needs patients.
Meanwhile, Floridians seeking COVID tests at drive-through sites were waiting in long lines, some for several hours. At Barnett Park in Orlando, the wait was up to two hours.
“The majority are coming for tests for travel purposes or because they have Christmas gatherings in a few days,” Daniella Sullivan, an Orange County Health Services administrator, told the Orlando Sentinel.