One of the most-widely-cited forecasters of the spread of COVID-19 is now predicting the disease will peak earlier in Florida and the need for hospital beds will be lower than earlier thought. The biggest factor in the change is social distancing — both the amount being done and new research about its effectiveness.

When we wrote about the research from the University of Washington on March 30, Florida was still four days away from implementing a safer-at-home policy.

At the time, the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected the disease would peak in Florida on May 3 and on that day fill 16,731 hospital beds and 2,538 ICU beds.

The current projections show the disease peaking in Florida on April 21 and on that day filling 8,224 hospital beds and 1,557 ICU beds.

April 8, 2020 forecast

March 30, 2020 forecast

In addition, projections for the number of deaths in Florida have reduced from 6,766 to 4,357, and the number of ventilators needed has gone from 2,029 to 1,323.

Nationally, the institute is now expecting a peak on April 11 with 93,249 hospitalized on that day, compared with the earlier projection of an April 14 peak with more than 230,000 hospitalized.

The revised date is based in part on more widespread social distancing in Florida. In addition, the modeling takes into account new data from Italy and Spain showing the disease peaks, then declines more quickly than earlier thought, lead researcher Ali Mokdad told Orlando’s WKMG News 6.

The new data suggests social distancing is working even better than expected to stop the spread of the virus, the researchers say.

In a briefing today with city commissioners, Polk County Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson stressed the importance of continuing social distancing even after the disease peaks.

“We don’t want to back off of our social distancing and other guidance too soon or we run the risk of having further escalation,” she said.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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