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One of Florida’s leading epidemiologists from Tampa Bay believes the state could be in the clear from the COVID-19 virus by June of this year, adding a slight change in the way the state tackles the virus could improve the outlook even more.
According to data from the Florida Department of Health, the state has successfully administered nearly 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and a total of 2.1 million people have been vaccinated. The largest group of vaccines have gone to the 65+ age group with over 1.5 million doses as of Feb 9.
At a press conference in Venice, Fla., on Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis was excited to announce that Florida had been performing better than all other states in the elderly vaccine department, saying, “That is way, way more than any other state by hundreds and hundreds of thousands. Of all the people that have been vaccinated in Florida, close to 75% of all shots have gone to senior citizens.”
USF Health epidemiologist, Dr. Edwin Michael, praised the state’s effort for prioritizing seniors first but believes targeting a younger age demographic may lead the way to more successful spread mitigation.
“If you ask me as an epidemiologist, I would say target the 20-to-49 year-olds,” said Dr. Michael. “You stop transmission as soon as possible, that will reduce hospitalizations as an indirect outcome, and that will protect the older folks.”
He cited that the 20-49-year-old population contributes to the higher virus spread count and implied that by targeting this group sooner than later, it might create a domino effect of lowering overall positivity rates throughout the state.
Dr. Michael studies the spread and control of global infectious diseases out of the Tampa Bay area and runs weekly models to track the virus’s progression. In December 2020, he predicted that Florida could be out of the pandemic by April but told FOX 13 that due to the rise in infections over the holiday season and the more relaxed approach in regards to safety protocols, his numbers have since changed.
Recently, Florida has seen a drop off in hospitalizations, infections, and deaths despite a rise in the U.K. variant of the virus. Dr. Michael does not believe the variant will cause another significant spike in the state’s cases and cited the apparent effectiveness of the vaccine against the new strain.
“If the variance were transmitting or spreading rapidly as it spread in the UK, you would expect transmission rates to increase. But we are not seeing anything for the last month. It’s been steadily falling,” he said.
He also believes Florida should re-center its efforts around sustaining social distancing and COVID-19 protocols to mitigate the spread and further complicate the situation.
“We have to give time for the vaccines to roll out. And so any drop in the social measures is going to complicate it,” said Dr. Michael.
If Dr. Michael’s prediction of shedding the virus completely by June, Florida would fare extremely well on all fronts considering it is one of the few entirely open states. June would mark roughly 15 months into the pandemic dating back to late February of 2020.
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