Researchers in Washington state who are studying the spread of COVID-19, are now saying Florida is expected to see the worst of the outbreak in mid April instead of the beginning of May.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has been creating projections based on local responses around the world to the coronavirus pandemic, including whether state leaders have enacted travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. The projections are updated weekly.
“It is now earlier than we predicted,” IHME lead researcher Dr. Ali Mokdad said. “It is now April 21.”
During a Skype interview last week," Mokdad said the number of COVID-19 cases were expected to peak on May, and then start tapering off by mid-June. However, the data is constantly changing and new data they just received shows Florida will peak in exactly two weeks.
“The reason it is now earlier than before is because we got new data from Italy and Spain that showed that the peak is going faster and coming earlier, then its declining after that,” Mokdad said Monday after the latest models were released.
Mokdad said with the peak projected to occur 12 days earlier, Florida now has less time to prepare, and will be a creating a bigger strain on hospitals.
“The cases we are now going to be seeing and coming to our hospitals are a factor of a month ago,” Mokdad said. “And they will need more ventilators, more PPE’s right now and more staff to be ready for this.”
According to data from the Florida Department of Health, since the beginning of March, cases of COVID-19 have been steadily growing along with increased testing occurring across the state of Florida. The data shows a steep upward curve of total Florida cases being reported between March 25 and April 5 and a significant spike between April 5 and April 6 as more tests became available and more lab tests results are coming in.
Currently, the FDOH data shows a slow increase in the number of deaths attributed to the COVID-19 virus. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the FDOH reported 296 deaths.
On April 2, Mokdad said Florida was on track to have almost 7,000 people die from COVID-19 by Aug. 4 but he admits that number could be drastically swayed based on social distancing and stay-at-home measures being followed by Floridians.
“It could go up to 18,000 deaths, or it could go as low as 1,700 deaths,” Mokdad said.
Mokdad said the number of deaths is directly tied to how well people are following the 30 day stay-at-home mandate instituted by Gov. Ron DeSantis last week.
“People in Florida can stay at home, they can reduce this number of moralities,” Mokdad said. “We shouldn’t see 6,897 deaths in Florida. We should see less if people adhere to these messages and stay at home.”
However, Mokdad said even if the numbers start to go down with increased testing, people should still stay home.
“If we relax our measures earlier than we should - this virus could come back,” he said. “And we don’t want it to come back. So, we have to be very careful let the data decide.”
Mokdad said he’s already seeing those extended measures making a big difference in his home state of Washington.