Coronavirus: Florida death toll will double over next two months, projection says

Healthcare workers walk to a tent at a COVID-19 testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Florida is nearing 8,000 deaths from COVID-19, and according to one prominent projection, that total is going to double by early October and surpass 19,000 by Dec. 1.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation released those new projections Thursday.

They predict that Florida’s death toll from the novel coronavirus will reach 19,358 by Dec. 1. If face masks were to be used universally, that projection would drop by more than 3,500 to 15,765, the IHME says.

On the other hand, an easing of safety restrictions could have Florida’s deaths surge to 61,938 by Dec. 1, the projection says.

Nationally, the IHME model has the COVID-19 death toll rising from its current 160,000 to over 295,000 by Dec. 1. Their projection drops to 228,000 with universal masks and rises to as high as 391,000 with an easing of restrictions.

Dr. Christopher Murray, the IHME director, said there appear to be fewer transmissions of the novel coronavirus in Florida — as well as other hotspots Arizona, California and Texas — but deaths are rising and will continue to rise for the next week or two. He says the drop in infections appears to be driven by more responsible behavior by the public and local mandates for mask use and the closing of bars and restaurants.

“The public’s behavior had a direct correlation to the transmission of the virus and, in turn, the numbers of deaths,” Murray said. “Such efforts to act more cautiously and responsibly will be an important aspect of COVID-19 forecasting and the up-and-down patterns in individual states throughout the coming months and into next year.”

Florida on Thursday reached 7,747 confirmed resident deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Last week, the state set records for new resident deaths reported Tuesday (186), Wednesday (216), Thursday (253) and Friday (257).

One of the factors being considered in the projected rise over the coming months is that transmission of the virus is likely to increase in the winter.

“Our estimate of the effect of seasonality remains large, implying that we should expect to see a substantial increase in transmission, all other things being held equal, in the winter months,” the IHME said in its report. “The large number of forecasted deaths that we estimate in the month of November in the reference scenario, nearly 45,000 deaths in one month, is driven substantially by this seasonal increase in transmission potential along with an assumption of further relaxation of mandates.”

The IHME says that for the purpose of its model they assume that half of the school districts in each state will conduct online learning only for the upcoming school year.  

“As data emerge on actual school patterns, we will incorporate them into our future revisions of forecasts,” Murray said. “We recognize that, given mask wearing, the likely restrictions on after-school activities, and the potential for some parents to avoid engaging in school-related functions, our estimated impact of school openings may be overly pessimistic.”

Based at the University of Washington, the IHME has been one of the most prominent predictors of the COVID-19 outlook, including being cited by the White House, but it has also faced criticism for how accurate its statistical models pan out.