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Local epidemiologist believes spring break travel could increase COVID-19 cases

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Posted at 4:28 PM, Mar 26, 2021

Coronavirus cases are starting to increase again in the Tampa Bay area, and we're learning that could be the result of spring break and the growing number of travelers.

While China Givens and her son drove to the Tampa Bay area from Louisiana to help a friend, they're now flying home.

"This is my first time in an airport since the pandemic," Givens said.

And her main concern was doing as much as she could to keep her 3-year-old safe as millions of Americans travel.

"Being around so many people now and touching so many different things. Yeah, it puts it on your mind," Givens said.

TSA reports they have been screening more than a million passengers every day for the past two weeks. A survey from travel and tourism market research firm "Destination Analysts" found 1 in 8 people had Spring Break plans.

"I'm not surprised to see it, but I am concerned," Dr. Jason Salemi said.

Dr. Salemi is an epidemiologist at USF Health. He also runs a website showing coronavirus cases and other trends associated with the virus. He believes spring break trips could impact the number of positive cases. He has color-coded charts showing the 7-day average daily cases in every Florida county. ABC Action News sorted through the data for our counties, honing in on the typical spring break crowd, 18- to 24-year-olds.

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The darker blue squares show a decrease, and the gray squares show less than a 5% change. The chart is covered in dark blue and gray about two weeks prior. Yellow and orange indicate increases.

Recently, Sarasota and Manatee have seen the biggest spikes in positive coronavirus cases among that demographic.

But Dr. Salemi is paying close attention to what he calls the "working-age" group, 25- to 49-year-olds.

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"They are at the highest risk of exposure to the virus and transmitting the virus and keeping communities spread high in Florida," he said. "It's very difficult to protect our vulnerable populations."

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Dr. Salemi says there are still 2.4 million seniors who have yet to be fully vaccinated or have gotten the shot at all. Even with vaccination numbers increasing, he still says we need to do our part to stop the spread.

"Wearing masks, doing things outdoors as much as possible, social distancing when you're indoors. And again, just abiding by the CDC recommendations," Dr. Salemi said.