Report: Social distancing and face masks will help crush COVID-19 pandemic by late April

Social mitigation measures will have a dramatic effect on how quickly Tampa Bay recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. A new report issued by Edwin Michael, professor of epidemiology in the USF College of Public Health, projects that if more people wear face masks and socialize less often, there likely won’t be a resurgence of the coronavirus after April 2021. In that case, the virus will peak Feb. 19 with 2,900 cases, preventing hospitals from exceeding capacity.

The region is experiencing an exponential spike in cases as fewer people are wearing masks and have increased their mobility. If that trajectory continues to rise, the peak will occur Jan. 17 with 11,000 cases. But if the level of these social behaviors remains the same, the peak will occur Feb. 22 with 4,800 cases. In both of those scenarios, hospital capacity to deal with sick patients will be greatly stressed and even overwhelmed, regardless of whether a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available this month. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be the first to receive the vaccine, with mass distribution likely to occur in the spring.

“The anticipated phased vaccination will not prevent the coming wave if current social measures are continued or if these are relaxed over the coming months,” Michael said. “Increasing social mitigation measures alongside phased vaccination can flatten the coming wave. However, the anticipated phased vaccine rollout will produce the levels of herd immunity required to prevent further resurges of virus after the end of April 2021.”

Michael’s data is provided by the SEIRcast COVID-19 Forecasting and Planning portal, which he initially developed at the University of Notre Dame. It’s designed to help support local policy decisions by making predictions based on various scenarios, such as regarding stay-at-home orders, mask mandates and the reopening of businesses. Florida Blue recently donated $100,000 to the USF Foundation to support the system, which has allowed further enhancements and implementation of the portal at USF. The SEIRcast model found that 1.4 million positive cases were averted when face mask mandates were implemented in Tampa Bay on June 21. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been 137,000 cases since then.

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