UCF epidemiologist worries the state is ripe for a 'tripledemic' as case counts rise
Elena Cyrus, a University of Central Florida epidemiologist, says Florida’s sprawling demographic of children and seniors puts it at risk of seeing dangerous increases of COVID, RSV and flu.
Respiratory illness cases are rising in Florida with reports of COVID-19, flu and RSV increasing, worrying experts that the area is at risk for a “tripledemic."
Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are quickly climbing, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. Positivity rates of testing jumped from 8% to 11.4%. The spike could be a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, keeping up with the pattern of increased cases following large social gathering events.
As for flu cases, the upcoming winter was predicted to experience an aggressive season and case reports are showing the forecast to be valid, so far. While emergency room visits for flu were down last week, according to state statistics, experts continue to see higher-than-normal flu rates for this time of the year, compared to the last three years.
Additionally, Nemours Children’s Hospital is continuing to see an increase in patients with RSV and is receiving child cases of flu and COVID as well.
Elena Cyrus, a University of Central Florida epidemiologist, said Florida’s sprawling demographic of children and seniors puts it at risk of seeing dangerous increases of all three viruses.
“What do we have in Florida? We have Disney and a bunch of schools, and then we have a huge retiree population as well. So just by age alone, our demographic profile is set up for a certain level of vulnerability to have those three existing (diseases) occurring at the same time,” Cyrus said.
Compounding the problem is vaccine numbers for both flu and COVID, which are not at an ideal level ahead of the peak flu months in January and February.
Low vaccinations coupled with holiday gatherings could set the state's health care system up for a tough winter season, experts say. Exacerbating the situation further, Cyrus says, is the state's lax COVID-19 guidelines.
In May 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that suspended al local COVID emergency orders and public health restrictions.
“The fact is, we are no longer in a state of emergency,” the governor had said. However, Florida's most challenging period for COVID would come in January of this year when cases spiked due to the omnicron variant.
Currently, no state restrictions are in play and risk management falls on Floridians, which leaves Florida at risk, Cyrus said.
"I would say given that we've really sort of placed risk management at the individual level, rather at the state level, which is fair, that's what we want, as a community we want that opportunity to make that decision for ourselves. But it introduces a higher level of risk in terms of protection and how vulnerable we are as a community," Cyrus said.
Keeping preventative strategies at the individual level not only increases the risk of COVID spreading faster, but it also makes it more difficult for the area to achieve "herd immunity," compared to a more prudent population, Cyrus explained.
“I hope it doesn't happen. I hope that things are mitigated. But we definitely run a risk as any other urban center to have what they're referring to as a ‘tripledemic’ of these three diseases, because of demography, and also because of our lax attitude in terms of risk management,” she said.