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Tampa Entering ‘Exponential Phase’ Of 'Sizeable' Coronavirus Surge, Warns USF Epidemiologist

Dr. Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist with USF Health, speaking at an event in October
WUSF
Dr. Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist with USF Health, speaks at an event in October. On Wednesday, he told the Hillsborough County Commission that vaccines will arrive too late to prevent the next wave of the pandemic.

Masks and increased social distancing are key measures over the next several months. Any ease-up and hospitals will be overwhelmed.

Coronavirus cases are beginning a new and concerning phase of growth in the Tampa Bay area, a top epidemiologist said Wednesday, warning that the peak of the pandemic could hit in late January or early February.

"We are currently entering the exponential phase of a sizeable resurgence of the virus in Tampa Bay," Dr. Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at USF Health, told the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday.

He says the risk is increasing because people are moving around more, interacting more and aren't being as strict about mask-wearing and social distancing since Florida fully reopened in late September.

In Hillsborough County, coronavirus cases have risen 24 percent in the past two weeks.

Hospitals are operating at 75 to 80 percent capacity in the Tampa area.

Michael said if society relaxes its masking and social distancing even slightly in the coming weeks, Hillsborough cases will spike dramatically and hospitals will be overwhelmed.

"Even with current social measures, you'll need an extra 1,100 beds to deal with the requirements. If you release, even moderately, it will completely overwhelm the hospital capacity for dealing with COVID cases," he said.

"Vaccines will arrive unfortunately too late to prevent the next wave," Michael said.

The answer, he says, is stricter masking and social distancing until vaccines are fully rolled out in the spring.

He urged people to stay vigilant about keeping their distance from others, and wearing masks.

“With the holidays coming, the messages is to families to have nuclear family celebrations, if at all. And then if kids are coming home, they need to be tested.”

Then, if enough people receive the vaccine early next year, the outlook is good for spring, Michael said.

“If we practice social measures alongside vaccinations, over the next few months, we will be able to crush the epidemic itself by the middle to end of April 2021," he said.

Dr. Michael's final slide of his presentation to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners
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Dr. Michael's final slide of his presentation to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners
Dr. Michael's slideshow depicts the rise in coronavirus cases in the Tampa area
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Dr. Michael's slideshow depicts the rise in coronavirus cases in the Tampa area


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