ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Testing sites across Tampa Bay continue to be busy as people rush to get tested for COVID-19 but as omicron cases continue to shoot up by the thousands, health experts tell ABC Action News that Florida might be reaching its peak of cases and start to see declining numbers.
Epidemiologists are hopeful. Right now, they estimate one in every 20 people are infected with the COVID-19 omicron variant, but cases should start to slowly drop off.
Health experts tell ABC Action News in the first week of December, for every one person sick with COVID-19 they were infecting four others. Now it’s down to one to two people infected by every one positive case.
“I’m very optimistic. We are kind of at the peak right now. It seems like it’s never going to go away and just as we think that it’s going to go away,” said Dr. Charles Lockwood of the Morsani College of Medicine.
“Things are moving in the right direction but we’re still really high, so we really need to be careful to protect ourselves for the next few weeks until those case numbers start to come down,” added Dr. Thomas Unnasch of the USF College of Public Health.
While the omicron variant is highly contagious, it’s still proving to be less dangerous. New numbers from Advent Health show currently 380 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 at their 11 Tampa Bay hospital locations. That’s just over half as many as they saw during the delta wave.
Lockwood says some of the hospitalization data being reported to the state can be taken out of context. “It’s a little misleading. If you take a look at Tampa General, they’re at about 180 patients that are COVID positive. Yet the majority of them, more than 50%, were incidentally found to have COVID because they came in for other reasons. That’s very different from the delta strain,” he elaborated.
Lockwood says of those patients at TGH, only 4% are on ventilators compared to 20% of COVID-positive patients during the Delta wave.
What about future variants? Both public health experts say we could see more variants of concern but they expect it will follow a pattern: more contagious, but less severe.
Health experts expect that if numbers keep following the current trend, then we should see the number of cases cut in half every two weeks.
“This is a really fast forest fire burning really hot and it is now starting to run out of fuel. I think the virus is now starting to find it hard to find people who it hasn’t infected already and that’s why we are starting to see a decline in case numbers,” Unnasch added.
The number of cases linked to schools in Tampa Bay also seems to be decreasing.
Although vaccinations don’t seem to be preventing infections when it comes to the omicron variant, it is keeping bad symptoms at bay for most vaccinated Americans who have described getting the omicron as a bad cold.
Dr. Ulyee Choe with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County recently told Pinellas County Commissioners that 62% of Pinellas County is vaccinated, and about 40% of the population has received booster shots.