Epidemiologist could see mask mandates return, just not in Florida

Dr. Jonathan Kantor, an epidemiologist with Penn Center for Epidemiology, talks about the spread of the Delta variant.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the Delta variant becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., an epidemiologist told News4Jax on Monday there is concern that the spread of the virus is going unnoticed.

That concern might be due in part to the symptoms of the Delta variant being different than those seen with the initial outbreak of COVID-19. People infected with the variant have had headaches, runny noses and sore throats, like what they might have with the common cold, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Jonathan Kantor, an epidemiologist with the Penn Center for Epidemiology, said concerns circulating now aren’t unlike those felt at the beginning of the pandemic when it occurred to health experts that the virus could be spreading among seemingly healthy or asymptomatic individuals.

“There were these health young adults or even children who could be fairly asymptomatic or think they just have a sniffle or something like that, but meanwhile they have the potential to spread COVID, so I think we’re seeing the same concern occur,” Dr. Kantor told The Morning Show’s Bruce Hamilton.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant now accounts for 51% of new infections nationwide. At UF Health Jacksonville, experts say new infections doubled in the last two weeks and half of those cases are believed to be the Delta variant.

Generally, Americans have decided that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or get tested for the virus, Dr. Kantor said. But, he said, as concern grows about the more transmissible Delta variant, he wouldn’t rule out the return of mask mandate. Except, perhaps, in Florida.

“I think there may be a concern, I think there may become a trend—as we’re seeing in Israel, as we’re seeing in Europe—towards considering mask mandates, even for those who have been vaccinated, just because of the potential for the Delta variant,” Kantor said. “I doubt, given the signals that the governor has sent, that we’re going to be looking at the in Florida, unless the data changes significantly.”

In its weekly situational report, Florida last week reported 23,697 new cases statewide, nearly doubling the number of new cases recorded the week before. Jacksonville wasn’t immune to the trend as it had 2,127 new cases after having not seen more than 2,000 new cases in one week since February.

According to Baptist Health, it is currently caring for 133 COVID-19 patients, 35 of whom are in intensive care. At UF Health Jacksonville, 21 of 60 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, as of Monday morning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who publicly hasn’t put much stock in concerns surrounding the Delta variant, has encouraged Floridians—particularly those who aren’t vaccinated or who have health problems—to get vaccinated to avoid getting seriously ill.

During Monday’s interview, Dr. Kantor said he is not someone who recommends that everyone should get the vaccine immediately and that every child needs to be vaccinated. But he said people who aren’t vaccinated need to weigh the pros and cons of the vaccine and the virus.

“Vaccines have very, very small risks associated with them, but getting COVID-19 we know has larger and much more significant risks,” he said. “So, the key thing to remember is that your alternative to getting a vaccine is not that you’re going to live happily ever after. Your alternative to getting a vaccine is a fairly good likelihood that you yourself are going to get COVID or that you’re doing to spread it to somebody else.”

Information from reporter Jim Piggott contributed to this report.

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