TAMPA BAY, Fla — New numbers from USF researchers show the fight against COVID-19 is far from over. A report shows Hillsborough County is expected to see a spike in cases. That's contributing to a longer timeline to reach herd immunity.
And if this trajectory keeps up, the state will reach herd immunity before the county.
"This is not over," Dr. Edwin Michael said.
Dr. Michael knows the highs and the lows of the pandemic. He's been tracking the data since March of 2020. Once vaccines were on the horizon, he was hopeful for a swift end.
"People are surprised, 'Hey, you made a prediction a month ago saying everything is over,'" he said. "Which is true at that time."
His new numbers show Hillsborough County heading toward a spike in COVID-19 infections three times larger than what we saw in the winter of 2020.
"When I saw those numbers, I was dreading. I said, 'Look, we have to warn people,'" Dr. Michael said.
Dr. Michael's research shows Hillsborough County vaccinated about 2,000 people a day. According to the Department of Health, 54% of eligible people in the county are vaccinated. Dr. Michael says this next spike will only be among the unvaccinated.
The study explains that because of the highly contagious Delta and Alpha variants, Hillsborough county will see an estimated 2,800 cases a day in September. The county's hospital bed capacity is 4,100. These beds are also for patients who need to be hospitalized for other reasons. Dr. Michael says this trend will happen statewide, as well.
"Toward the end of September, the peak cases will be above 59,000 requiring hospitalization," he said.
But if those people survive, they'll contribute to an important timeline.
"Big cities are the ones which are enabling the state as a whole to reach herd immunity. But at the cost of infections," Dr. Michael said.
If Florida continues at its current vaccination rate, the state will reach herd immunity by early September. In Hillsborough County, that wouldn't happen until November 1.
But Dr. Michael's charts show if vaccinations doubled, the state would reach herd immunity by August 15 and Hillsborough County would reach that threshold by October 22.
"The vaccinations [are] the way out," Dr. Michael said. "But you have to rapidly vaccinate people. So you reduce the window for new variants to come into play."
Dr,. Michael says the best way to avoid a spike in infections is by implementing COVID-19 protocol again, like how California is re-instating mask mandates no matter a person's vaccination status. The other way is to ramp up vaccinations. Hillsborough County's vaccination rates have dropped by 70 percent since April.