USF epidemiology professor says 2nd wave of COVID-19 is starting, creates system to predict peak and end

Posted at 7:39 AM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 04:53:25-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Edwin Michael, an epidemiology professor at the University of South Florida, built SEIRcast, a pandemic forecasting system to predict outbreaks and COVID-19 trends.

Michael just presented the newest model to different local groups, like hospitals and colleges earlier this week.

He shared those numbers with ABC Action News, too.

This latest data is still in progress, and hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, but Michael says it’s on trend with other models.

“People are mixing as if nothing is going on. But the virus is still there,” said Michael.

“You’re not going to prevent a second wave, a second wave is coming. We are already starting on the second wave,” he added.

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For the Tampa Bay area, the data shows that if current social distancing measures stay the same, the second wave would peak on January 29 with 10,000 new cases daily.

According to this model, if we reduce current social distancing measures even by just 10%, which is a concern with the holidays coming up, the numbers for the second wave get much worse.

“Bingo! The peak is going to explode. You’re going to hit 18,000 cases and the peak is going to occur on January 13,” said Michael.

Michael’s data predicts the second wave will end around the end of April or beginning of May.

He predicts hospitalizations will be greatly impacted, too.

According to the data, with current social distancing measures, peak hospitalization demand will be around February 6 and 3,500 beds will be required in the Tampa region just for COVID-19 patients.

“Do we have enough capacity? Well it depends on occupancy rates. Right now our occupancy is 75 to 80% in the Tampa hospitals, that means you won’t have enough beds. Or you should stop elective surgeries and stop giving beds for other conditions,” said Michael.

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However, if social distancing measures are decreased by 10%, the hospitalization demand will peak around January 21 and we’ll need about 36,000 beds.

“That will just swamp the health system. There’s no capacity,” said Michael.

Experts say a vaccine will not do as much as they had hoped for the second wave of COVID-19 infections locally.

“The vaccine is not going to prevent the second wave. It’s coming. It’ll reduce the peak numbers and it’ll hasten the end of the wave. That’s all the vaccine can do because it’s coming far too late. The second wave is already happening,” said Michael.

Vaccine production is now ramping up and Michael says once we have a vaccine distributed, the next problem will be tackling the logistics and the capacity to reach the kind of vaccination rate we need.

Michael says to vaccinate just 1% of people in Tampa, that would be 37,000 people a day.

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The higher the vaccination rate, the sooner we can control the pandemic.

Experts say increasing social distancing measures will greatly flatten the curve of the second wave, but it doesn’t help us reach herd immunity.

“The lockdown did a fantastic job. It kept people from getting infected but it also kept the people susceptible because not enough people have become immune. That means as soon as you release the social measures and there’s still some infection around, bingo! You’ll get the next wave,” said Michael.

He says if we use both strict social distancing measures, along with getting the vaccine, it will help us reach some sense of normalcy again, by getting enough people immune.

“Now you’ve got enough people who are immune in the population so that no more future waves can occur because we’ve reached herd immunity levels. Now you’re fully protected. So at the end of April you can fully reopen the economy. Provided you have the vaccinations in place,” said Michael.