April is the cruelest month, goes the line by T.S. Eliot. Florida and the United States are about to discover how cruel: experts are warning of a waste land in the weeks ahead.
An influential new study from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, whose national numbers were cited by the White House, projects that based on current social distancing measures and death rates from the coronavirus, Florida will see 5,568 deaths from Covid-19 by Aug. 4. The projection is a mean in a range of 1,672 deaths at the minimum, to nearly 11,000 deaths at the top of the scale.
The study projects the pandemic’s death rate not to peak in Florida until May 3, with 136 deaths that day alone–almost twice as many deaths as Florida has seen cumulatively so far. The range for that peak day is from 30 to 280 deaths. That means the number of deaths will rise rapidly despite social distancing rules in place–but would rise even more if those measures were not in place, the study’s author warns.
The study also projects a need for almost 2,000 intensive care unit beds at the peak of the pandemic. The state has 1,695 beds, leaving a shortage of 300 beds. The state will need 1,594 ventilators, the study projects. It is not known how many ventilators there are in Florida’s hospitals. A shortage of hospital beds–as opposed to ICU beds–is not expected in Florida.
The study does not break down numbers by county, but Flagler County’s top health official is urging local residents to brace themselves for what’s ahead.
“It is going to be a very challenging next four to six weeks as the curve gets higher, and heads towards peaking, and for that reason, we have to embrace social distancing wholeheartedly like never before,” said Bob Snyder, who heads Flagler County’s health department and has been at the forefront of the crisis locally, essentially as the incident commander.
“The why is because there’s no vaccine, there’s no proven medication,” Snyder said this evening. “The antiviral medications are now in clinical trials in New York, and the way that we’re going to reduce transmission hinges on all the things that we have been communicating the last two weeks about staying home to stay alive. That’s the county slogan, by the way. And practice good hygiene, practice disinfecting all of our surfaces, and hope that testing becomes available so that it is broadly distributed and we can enter a surveillance testing phase in using these rapid testing kits like the ones being developed by Abbot labs where we get the test results for positives within five minutes, and the negatives within 15 minutes.” (Surveillance testing means that authorities can significantly increase the number of people being tested beyond current criteria, which are based on diagnostic needs.) “But that is going to take a while. So the month of April is going to be critical for our community and every other community in the country, especially communities that are populated.”
As of Tuesday evening, Flagler County had 18 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 11 of them in Palm Coast, one in Flagler Beach, one in Bunnell. One of the cases affects a non-resident. That was based on some 200 tests conducted so far. Over 61,000 Floridians have been tested across the state, with 6,741 confirmed cases and 85 deaths attributed to the disease–an increase of 22 in 24 hours. That’s the single-largest increase in deaths in 24 hours since the pandemic began. There’s been 857 hospital admissions attributed to the disease. (See complete daily data here.)
The study indicates that the effects of the pandemic are still in the earliest stages in Florida and the United States, and that any notions of reopening schools and the rest of society by the end of May–let alone by mid-April, as the current school-closure order projects–are unrealistic. Today, the Florida Department of Education extended the closure of schools across the state through May 1. They were initially closed through mid-April.
The Washington School of Medicine estimates are based on Florida’s current state of social distancing rules, which include only recommendations to stay at home–not orders, as in some states–and no requirement for non-essential services to close, or severe limitations on travel. The governor has instituted some monitoring of travelers from the New York region and from Louisiana, but the monitoring is only haphazardly enforced through checkpoints on interstates and arrivals at airports. Stricter stay-at-home orders are in place in several other states.
The study was conducted by the University of Washington’s School of Medicine’s Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation there, and was cited at a Sunday news conference by Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. The task force is expected to release its own models today. Those projections could be grimmer still. According to The New York Times, Brix said that even if all of the social distancing guidelines are followed “perfectly,” the death toll in the nation could range between 100,000 and 200,000.
“Our estimated trajectory of Covid-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital and health workers, and government agencies,” Murray said. “The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives.”
The study’s analysis, based on observed death rates, estimates that over the next four months in the United States, approximately 81,000 people will die from the virus. Estimates range between 38,000 and 162,000 U.S. deaths.
The analysis was developed to determine when the pandemic would overwhelm hospitals’ ability to care for patients. The forecast predicts that 41 states will need more ICU beds than they currently have available and that 11 states may need to increase their ICU beds by 50% or more to meet patient needs before the current wave of the pandemic ends. (The end is defined as fewer than 10 deaths per day nationwide.)
On March 22, Florida had 13 deaths attributed to Covid-19. The number increased by a few each day, then jumped on Friday by 17, the largest day-over-day jump until today. The numbers don’t include non-Florida residents who died in the state of Covid-19. Hospitalizations for the disease have been increasing from 500 on Friday to 567 Saturday to 633 Sunday and 715 Monday evening.
Local health and hospital officials have said repeatedly that AdventHealth Palm Coast at the moment is in “good shape” (in the words of Chief Operating Officer Wally de Aquino on Friday), with good capacity regarding beds in general and ICU beds in particular. The hospital set up a large tent to care for overflow patients that don’t need more serious intervention, in case of overflow. Palm Coast government and others have offered the hospital various locations in the county as overflow for patients–if needed–including the Palm Coast Community Center.