The number of new coronavirus cases in Florida has been lower the past several days compared to last week.
But at the same time, deaths from COVID-19 are increasing. The 72 deaths reported Tuesday by the Florida Department of Health are the state's highest single-day toll yet.
That can be expected, according to Dr. Marissa Levine, professor with the University of South Florida College of Public Health.
While there are some cases of people dying within days of learning they have COVID-19, the process can be drawn out for others who develop severe symptoms.
Levine explained a patient could be in a hospital for ten days or so before their symptoms get bad enough for them to move to an intensive care unit. And if they end up needing a ventilator, it could be several more weeks before they are taken off that machine.
“Anywhere along that critical phase, particularly folks who are older or have underlying conditions, could die, and so what we're seeing in terms of the deaths is really a delay of the picture of what's going on,” said Levine. “It’s not surprising that if we see new cases going down, we’re still going to deaths and we may see deaths actually increase for a period of time.”
Levine said that the increase shouldn’t discourage people. She said new cases slowing down means the social distancing measures Floridians are taking are working - and it’s critical they stick with them.
"I would ask people to be patient and to realize that their actions have made a difference and are still needed," Levine said.
As for how long Floridians can expect to see COVID-19 deaths rise, Levine said it’s hard to know.
A model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine is currently predicting Florida’s deadliest day will be May 6, a few days after the pandemic is expected to peak in the state.
But that model has shifted several times, and Levine said it will likely change again as mitigation efforts continue to impact the situation.
“They’re only models, and it’s really important to be aware that it’s a tool, but it’s not a perfect predictor,” Levine said, comparing them to weather forecasts.
“The closer we are to the day we’re interested in, the better the model is, but if we look a week or two or three weeks out, it’s not going to be quite as good, there’s going to be a whole range, so we really have to think about kind of a best-case and worst-case scenario given the limitations of the models,” she said.
“So you’re going to continue to see changes in the peaks. I think the good news is that we’re having an impact and most importantly, through that effort, we’re allowing us to make sure we work within the resources our healthcare system has, and that’s been a big concern so I would ask people to keep it up.”
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