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Hillsborough Hospitals Could Be Swamped By May If Social Distancing Isn't Done, Report Says

Chart showing hospital bed demand and social distancing
University of South Florida
Hospital bed demand and social distancing

Hillsborough County's hospitals will get swamped by mid-May if people don't practice social distancing, a University of South Florida researcher said Friday. 

USF public health professor Thomas Unnasch said if more than half the county's residents practice social distancing, Hillsborough County will avoid seeing more than 20,000 people needing hospitalization because of the coronavirus. The county today has roughly 4,000 hospital beds.

Unnasch said in order to keep hospitals from getting swamped, at least half the people in the county have to stay away from everyone else.

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“Stay-at-home orders will work if people pay attention and we will be able to reduce infections to the point where the hospital system could care for everyone who falls ill,” Unnasch said. “It will be better to get quality care in a hospital than lying in a tent set up in a parking lot.”

Unnasch, whose research has focused on vector-borne disease and disease control, said a study released earlier this week in Great Britain shows the average person who practiced social distancing there reduced exposure to others by 71 percent.

"It works if you do it," he said.

Hillsborough County has a total of 4,060 hospital beds. The report estimates that if individuals do not reduce the number of different people they come in contact with each day by at least 45 percent, there will be more than twice as many patients than total hospital beds by June.

The shortage does not take into account the number of patients hospitalized for unrelated health conditions.

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Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.