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Is Florida America’s next coronavirus hotspot?

By May 3, as many as 174 Floridians could be dying daily from COVID-19.

A man is swabbed as he is tested for COVID-19 as vehicles line up at the Doris Ison Health Center in Miami. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (Photo by Lynne Sladky)
A man is swabbed as he is tested for COVID-19 as vehicles line up at the Doris Ison Health Center in Miami. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (Photo by Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We first heard about a concentration of COVID-19 cases in the United States in late January when people started dying at a senior living facility outside Seattle. Weeks later the number of cases exploded in New York City, then New Orleans and now Detroit.

Miami-Dade (3,000 cases) and Broward (1,500 cases) are considered Florida’s hot spots for coronavirus even though the number of positive cases and deaths in South Florida pales to those in the nation’s hardest-hit communities. But models are predicting that we’re still just at the beginning of our crisis.

The Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington, released its state-by-state coronavirus projection model Monday indicating that by May 3 as many as 174 Floridians could be dying daily from COVID-19.

According to the modeling, Florida will need about 17,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in early May, including 2,500 ICU beds. Florida should have about 20,000 hospital beds available, but probably only 1,700 ICU beds, IHME projects.

The former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, tweeted Tuesday that Miami could become an epicenter for spread.

Advice from Ali Mokdad, a professor at the University of Washington, helped push Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue the statewide stay-at-home order than went into effect Friday morning. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force’s response coordinator, cited the modeling from the University of Washington during a Sunday press conference, noting that it matched White House projections.

Other academic research is trying to predict where the next hotspots for COVID-19 will be.

“When you flip from just state-level data to county-level data, you get a lot more information,” Marynia Kolak, assistant director of health informatics at the University of Chicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science, told Scientific American. “For example, there are a lot of areas in the South where the population is a lot smaller, but the proportion of people who have [COVID-19] is a lot greater. So that can cause potential challenges because even though there are less people who have the virus, there are also correspondingly fewer hospital beds, [intensive care units] or ventilators.”

There is no better example of that than Albany, Georgia. It’s the county seat of Doughtery County, which has only 90,000 people yet has recorded 560 cases and 30 deaths by midday Friday. That’s more cases and three times the number of cases in Jacksonville -- a city 10 times larger. While it’s fewer cases that Fulton County -- the core county of the Atlanta metro -- Dougherty County has had more people die and its small hospital is overrun with patients.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany has had more than 50 patients with the coronavirus and is awaiting test results on another 80, hospital officials said on Wednesday. On Tuesday, as the hospital released its first COVID-19 patient who had spent time in intensive care, the staff lined the hallway and cheered.

The coronavirus crisis in Southwest Georgia extends to neighboring counties, particularly Lee County, with less than 30,000 people, it has seen 104 cases and seven deaths.


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