JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The latest COVID-19 models from the University of Washington — the most widely-cited by U.S. health officials — move the projected peak of the impact on Florida back about two weeks, but increased the total deaths the state may see by late summer.
UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation creates projections based on local responses around the world to the coronavirus pandemic, including whether state leaders have enacted travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. The projections are updated weekly or daily depending on when the team receives new data.
Late last week the models showed Florida experiencing a peak in fatal coronavirus cases on April 23 with 239 deaths per day during the worst of the epidemic. Late Monday, IHME updated its projections again to show the death toll will be closer to 128 per day on May 6, but the number of total deaths over the next few months actually went up.
By early August, Florida could have more than 4,747 deaths from COVID-19, if these models prove true.
The IHME models take into account resources that the state has including hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators. The most recent forecast shows that by May 3, that state will begin to use the maximum amount of resources needed including ICU beds and ventilators to combat the virus.
Last week, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration began releasing data showing available hospital and ICU beds around the state and making those numbers public to help determine what resources will be needed in the weeks to come. According to the IHME models, Florida will need 4,076 beds, 1081 of those intensive care beds, at the peak -- which should not exceed the number available in the state.
Why the every-changing numbers?
IHME lead researcher Dr. Ali Mokdad told WKMG-TV in an interview the team got new data from Italy and Spain that showed that the peak is going faster and coming earlier, then declining.
The latest calculations are based on data showing how the virus acts, more information on how people act and more cities’ baselines. For example, new data from Italy and Spain suggest social distancing is working even better than expected to stop the spread of the virus.
The time it took for the epidemic to peak — that is, for those deaths to start declining — was shorter in those Italian and Spanish cities than it was Wuhan, China, said Dr. Christopher Murray of the University of Washington, who developed the model.
However, if you look at the models there are still large factors of uncertainty. Remember, this is a novel disease, and researchers and medical workers are learning about it day-by-day.
So how does modeling work?
Take everything we know about how the coronavirus is spreading, when it’s deadly and when it’s not, when symptoms show and when they don’t.
Then factor in everything we know about how people are reacting, social distancing, stay-at-home orders and other squishy human factors.
Now add everything we know about testing, treating the disease and equipment shortages. Finally, mix in large dollops of uncertainty at every level.
Squeeze all those thousands of data points into incredibly complex mathematical equations and voila, here’s what’s going to happen next with the pandemic. Except, remember, there’s a huge margin of error: For the prediction of U.S. deaths, the range is larger than the population of Wilmington, Delaware.
“No model is perfect, but most models are somewhat useful,” said John Allen Paulos, a professor of math at Temple University and author of several books about math and everyday life. “But we can’t confuse the model with reality.”
As the virus continues its course in the U.S. and around the world, uncertainty will decrease but it will always remain, just like with hurricane forecasting as the storm approaches landfall.
WKMG-TV in Orlando and The Associated Press contributed to this report.