By John Haughey
The Center Square
June 19, 2020
(The Center Square) – Florida has ranked sixth in the nation for coronavirus spread for six weeks according to a model tracking COVID-19 transmission, and three other projection models forecast bad scenarios for the state by Oct. 1.
All four models agree Florida is in a resurgence and indicate, to varying degrees, COVID-19 cases will continue to increase statewide in coming weeks, with two models warning the worst is yet to come.
The Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reported Thursday 85,926 people have tested COVID-19 positive and 3,061 people have died from the disease.
The past week has seen record-setting days in the number of new cases, with newly diagnosed infections topping 1,000 daily in 15 of the past 16 days, including more than 2,700 new cases, and at least 25 new deaths, reported Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has attributed some of the surge to increased testing statewide – more than 1.5 million have been tested – and said numbers are skewered by the timing of “data dumps,” when labs report “batched” test results.
The governor has also said increased rates of those testing positive are partially because the state is targeting testing in “high-risk environments,” such as nursing homes, prisons and jails, industrial worksites and migrant farmworker communities.
DeSantis affirmed Tuesday he will not recede from his June 5 launch of phase two in his three-part reopening plan.
“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to go forward,” DeSantis said.
The four models suggest voluntary compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and social distancing protocols is episodic, at best.
According to a transmission model built by open-source software developer GitHub, the virus is spreading at an “Rt COVID-19 value” of 1.06, meaning each Floridian with the virus infects on average six people.
An Rt value above 1.0 means the virus is spreading. Florida was below 1.0 Rt from April 29 through May 10 and was at 1.08 on May 28, according to GitHub.
At 1.06, Florida has ranked sixth nationally in spread for six weeks, GitHub calculates, and it is the same “reproduction number” cited by MIT graduate and independent data scientist Youyang Gu in his COVID-19 projections model.
Gu’s model uses machine learning to inform its predictions, which are incorporated into aggregates calculated by the CDC.
It puts the new case peak at 8,000 daily in mid-July, dropping to 4,800 by Oct. 1. It projects daily fatalities peaking at 58 in early August and dropping to 43 by Oct. 1, when 8,257 Floridians are estimated to have died from the disease.
Several weeks ago, Gu’s model offered the most dire prognostications, especially when compared with forecasts calculated by the oft-cited Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation‘s (IHME) model.
In early June, IHME predicted 3,899 COVID-19 deaths by Aug. 4, a downward revision from its previous estimate that 5,440 Floridians would die from the disease by early August.
The IHME model, which has been highlighted by White House officials, now projects the state could see 54,000 new daily COVID-19 infections and 438 daily deaths come October.
Meanwhile, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute and the University of Pennsylvania have issued a similar dire forecast for the Sunshine State.
Florida has “all the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission” and risks being the “worst it has ever been,” according to Wednesday’s projections from institute and university researchers.
“The potential for the virus to take off [in Florida] is very, very nerve-racking and could have catastrophic consequences,” University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo told CNN on Thursday.