Despite experiencing a record-breaking surge in new coronavirus cases, Florida continues to move forward with its reopening plans. And now a group of experts warns that the state “has all the makings of the next large epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania published a report that some states, including Florida, where officials have reported a recent spike in cases, could be without restrictions that are more stringent.
The report said, “The most concerning areas for additional widespread community transmission continue to be in Texas, Arizona, the Carolinas and, once again, Florida. In fact, Florida has all the makings of the next large epicenter…the risk there is the worst it has ever been in our projections.”
On Thursday, Florida experienced the biggest spike in new cases, with more than 3,200 new cases in just 24 hours, bringing the total to nearly 86,000 cases. So far, the state has reported over 3,000 deaths.
The report predicted that Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County could potentially see a large spike in new cases in the coming weeks.
Dr. David Rubin of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said their past models have been accurate and that communities “may be ready to reopen if they take a cautious and slow approach.”
“However, we continue to caution that reducing the likelihood of additional outbreaks will require individuals and business owners to be vigilant with personal protection, wearing masks and practicing proper hygiene, and instituting strong workplace safety measures,” he added. “Unfortunately, we are already seeing some areas move too quickly and without enough vigilance.”
On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the recent spike in new coronavirus cases is due to increased testing. “You do now have widespread testing of asymptomatic people,” he said, adding that the state is not planning to change its reopening plans.
DeSantis said, “The restaurants have been doing this for, what have they been doing it for — for six weeks? I mean, the idea that that all of a sudden is the reason, I’m not sure that that’s the case. So no, we’re not shutting down.”
However, experts warned that reopening plans are responsible for the surge in new cases.
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka of Florida International University said the reopenings are contributing to the spike in cases. She said the future of the coronavirus in Florida “all depends on what people do.”
Dr. Trepka told CBS Miami that people should practice social distancing and wear facemasks whenever they are in public.
The report cautioned that summer weather alone cannot extinguish an outbreak. It said, “High temperatures and humidity help to reduce coronavirus spread on the margins, but the greatest differentiator is our distancing and masking and hand hygiene, and the ability to protect high-risk locations like meatpacking plants, prisons and nursing homes.”