Health expert fears Florida has taken big step back in COVID-19 fight

State needs to get handle on 'cascading effect' before it spirals out of control, doctor says

Florida’s surge in coronavirus cases continues with the number of deaths and hospitalizations hitting new records. As a result, many health experts say the state needs to act now to keep things from spiraling further out of control.

As hospitals fill with patients across the state, ICU beds are at a premium and personal protective equipment for hospital workers is becoming scarce. There is also new evidence that the virus can float in the air and spread. And worries arise that the many younger people who are now testing positive might be passing it on to those who are more susceptible to illness and death.

Epidemiologists say the U.S. and Florida have taken a giant step backward in the fight against COVID-19. 

“We’re starting to get it now, but we expected it several weeks ago,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson, senior associate dean with the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. “It’s a cascading effect. We knew that there would be increased exposure when we opened up the state -- that more people would be in the circumstance where they have more proximity to more congestion and more time spent with those people in congestion.”

And now there are federal and state demands to open schools to classroom learning and the Republican National Convention is slated for August in Jacksonville, stoking growing fears of a further spike of COVID-19.

“The convention is the possible recipe for disaster,” Wolfson said. “In order to get here, people are going to go through airports, they’re going to be in congested lines, they’re going to be in a large room with lots of other people, coughing, sneezing, yelling. They’re doing all kinds of things that are a natural breeding ground for a super spreader area.”

Wolfson said getting children back to school is important socially and for the economy and is more than a political issue.

“Parents need to go back to work,” Wolfson said. “And we need to find ways to protect the teachers, the staff, the children from each other and the parents from what the children might bring bringing home and the community.”

But Wolfson said the solutions are far from simple.

“Each community is trying to work this out, and I hope we can do it well,” Wolfson said. “It’s not just a flicking of the switch on and off, as the governor says, it’s really like a dimmer switch. We have to monitor what’s happening. And as we see sparks occurring in a community, dive in to prevent there being a forest fire.”

Hospitals in Central and South Florida are already overflowing with patients and hospitals in Jacksonville are seeing an uptick in patients. Epidemiologists said it is not out of the question the scenario playing out elsewhere in the state could play out in Northeast Florida.

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