Tampa Bay is beginning to feel the effects of the third wave of coronavirus, and the vaccine won’t be able to stop it in time. The Pfizer vaccine started being administered to health professionals Dec. 14; however, mass distribution likely won’t begin until the spring. In the meantime, social distancing measures will be vital in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Data obtained by the SEIRcast COVID-19 Forecasting and Planning portal projects that behaviors around the holidays, such as attending social gatherings, will likely prolong when the number of cases starts to trend in a downward direction. Portal developer Edwin Michael, professor of epidemiology in the USF College of Public Health, projects that just a 10% decrease of physical distancing measures, such as wearing face masks, will result in 38,000 daily infectious cases when the coming third wave peaks on Jan. 27 in Tampa Bay.
Michael found that if our current social behaviors remain the same, the peak arrives Feb. 13 with 18,000 cases predicted for that day. If more individuals begin wearing face masks and socialize less often, the peak occurs between Feb. 16 and Feb. 19, ranging between 6,500 and 14,500 daily cases, depending on the intensity of social distancing measures. These figures are fluid as they depend on new data provided by area counties on the number of daily cases and deaths. Forecast models now predict that the emerging third wave will last until after June, two months later than what the data showed a few weeks ago.
“The predicted case burdens for the coming wave are much higher than before we went into lockdown in April, and are beginning to exceed the summer wave,” Michael said. “If the size of the coming wave is not reduced by ramping up social mitigation measures, then it will lead to requirements for hospitalizations that will overwhelm the current capacity of the Tampa Bay hospital system.”
Nearly 75% of local hospital beds are currently occupied. Projections show that they’ll start to exceed capacity Dec. 29 and may remain full until Feb. 17 when the general population is expected to slowly start receiving the vaccine. Michael says its essential individuals continue to practice social distancing behaviors until April, the point at which a majority of the population is expected to have been vaccinated. However, that is dependent on individuals agreeing to receive the vaccine.
USF leaders have been utilizing the SEIRcast model to assist in the decision-making process regarding campus operations and student and faculty guidelines. It’s also being used as a resource by area government agencies when considering stay-at-home orders, mask mandates and the reopening of businesses.
Michael is providing regular updates to the broader community during the City of Tampa’s weekly Facebook Live. The newly launched program, "Road to Recovery," airs Wednesdays at 4:30pm.