As confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida approached 50,000 on Friday, the state pushed forward in planning for a more normal month ahead.
The governor cleared the way for youth sports and activities to resume. The city of Tampa announced it would start its summer camps next month. And Miami-Dade said beaches would open June 1.
Researchers, meanwhile, are warning southern states — Florida in particular — about the dangers of reopening too quickly and the potential for a second wave of the virus.
A model developed by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania predicts possible spikes in coronavirus cases in Florida’s largest counties in the coming weeks based on current social distancing patterns.
“Our forecast has been very concerned for Southeast Florida,” said Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The Tampa Bay region is predicted to see cases increase, too, though not as dramatic in number as South Florida, the model shows.
It predicts Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties could surpass previous peaks in per-day cases of the virus, and that Hillsborough and Pinellas wouldn’t be far below their past peaks.
Florida began a phased effort to restart its economy on May 4, reopening restaurants, non-essential businesses and world-famous beaches. Within two weeks, the state expanded the opening to include barber shops, hair salons, nail salons and gyms.
South Florida, the epicenter of the state’s epidemic, has also reopened. Together, Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties account for well over half of the state’s coronavirus cases and deaths.
On Friday, Florida’s coronavirus death toll grew to 2,268 after the state added 46 fatalities. Forty-six percent of the deaths, or 1,043, represent either a resident or staff member of a long-term care facility.
Eleven of the new deaths were recorded in the Tampa Bay area.
Confirmed cases jumped by 776 statewide on Friday, as the total count of confirmed infections rose to 49,451.
As of Friday, 837,172 people have been tested in Florida, according to the Department of Health. That’s roughly 3.9 percent of the population.
Overall, just below 6 percent of tests have come back positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?
A predicted spike?
The model developed by PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania uses county-level coronavirus case data and GPS cellphone data from Unacast to predict case trends over the next four weeks.
The most recent case data on the model is from May 14, before Miami-Dade and Broward counties reopened. It uses raw numbers of cases per-day and predicts the same.
The model expresses distancing by measuring the amount of travel to non-essential businesses. The current amount of travel is compared to both pre-epidemic levels and to peak levels of social distancing, which would be equivalent to the lowest amount of travel occurring during the epidemic.
Compared to pre-epidemic life, people in Miami-Dade County are traveling to businesses 63 percent less often, according to the model. That’s 13 percent more often, however, than at peak social distancing.
The model predicts the relaxation in distancing could lead to daily cases increasing in the county to 746 by June 16, or more than double what they were on May 14.
“Think of it, in the case of Miami-Dade, as a hurricane forecast,” said Rubin, the director of PolicyLab.
People, he said, need to prepare and protect themselves and others, which in the epidemic means distancing and wearing a mask in public. If people relax too much, and cases do rise, that makes it harder to control spread.
“That means the hurricane is closer to coming on shore,” he said, “and in some ways, you don’t have time to get out of town as quickly or put the hurricane shutters on.”
The model shows the Tampa Bay region has loosened up on distancing more than Miami-Dade and could see increases in cases, too.
Hillsborough County could see daily reported cases nearly double from May 14 to June 16, the model predicts. Polk could see cases more than double.
During that same timeframe, Pinellas and Manatee counties could also see increases, though less dramatic.
All four counties have seen distancing decrease by at least 20 percent since efforts peaked, according to the model.
The model doesn’t specifically account for vulnerable populations, such as those in long-term care facilities or prisons. But Rubin said if cases overall are increasing, those vulnerable communities are even more at risk.
“That would be like a tornado that happens in the middle of a hurricane,” he said.
The model accounts for population density and temperature and humidity, but since Florida is already approaching summer weather, Rubin said he doesn’t expect weather to curb the virus’ spread much more.
A Tampa Bay Times analysis published earlier this month showed that Floridians likely helped curb the spread of the coronavirus early on by staying home before government officials ordered them to do so. The Times analysis, which also used cellphone data tracking movement, showed that by the end of April, people were moving more.
New reported coronavirus cases statewide had been on a clear downward trajectory, but in late April the rate of growth started to flatten. Over the past week, the growth has been increasing. Thursday saw a large spike in cases that the governor attributed to a “big dump of test results.”
New reported deaths are growing at a steady rate, and over the past week, Florida has averaged 39 new recorded deaths each day.
What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?
What’s the latest in Tampa Bay?
The Tampa Bay region’s total confirmed cases reached 5,258 Friday after the seven-county area added 69 cases.
The 11 new deaths were added in Hillsborough (6), Manatee (2) and Polk (3).
On Friday, the Tampa Bay region’s coronavirus death count stood at 319. More than half of the deaths can be tied to long-term care facilities, according to state numbers.
As of the latest counts, Hillsborough had 1,790 cases and 73 deaths; Pinellas had 1,116 cases and 74 deaths; Manatee had 946 cases and 92 deaths; Polk had 840 cases and 49 deaths; Pasco had 338 cases and 13 deaths; Citrus had 118 cases and 12 deaths; and Hernando had 110 cases and six deaths.
Florida coronavirus cases by age group
Doctors say older people are at a greater risk to developing severe symptoms from COVID-19, which makes Florida especially vulnerable.
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