Safer-at-home order relaxation likely ‘many weeks away,’ USF health officials say

Coronavirus

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – In a report about the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the Tampa Bay area, a group of University of South Florida professionals says safer-at-home policies “appear to be having a positive impact on the slowing rate of the rise of new cases and hospitalizations.”

8 On Your Side obtained an advance copy of the report. It is expected to be discussed by the Hillsborough County emergency policy group Monday afternoon. The group is made up of eight local leaders.

“This is not to say the region is out of the woods and can let its guard down,” USF health officials wrote in the report. “Rather this is an important time to hone our situational awareness and plan for both a worst-case scenario and the next phases of the pandemic.”

The report’s writers say they are learning as the crisis continues and admit they must adapt to what is learned.

In the report, they stress the importance of face coverings.

“We also learned that those asymptomatic individuals are capable of spreading the disease. This has led to the recommendation that, for people who must be out and are unable to assure the ability to adequately maintain physical distance, cloth face covers should be worn,” the report states. “This cover is primarily to prevent the spread of virus particles from an asymptomatic carrier. It is not intended to replace the strict physical distancing measures that are in place and appear to be working. The population-level effectiveness of face coverings alone has not yet been proven.”

The USF College of Public Health is working right now with modelers to develop a regional model for the Tampa Bay area, the report says. The group hopes the model will focus on and help in two areas.

“First, helping health care facilities and governmental policymakers in their ongoing efforts to prepare for potential healthcare surge of COVID-19 patients,” they wrote. “Second, assessing the timetable for considering a relaxation of the safer-at-home order.”

The report goes on to say, “We expect to have some initial insight later this week into potential best and worst-case scenarios for healthcare surge as well as future relaxation of safer-at-home. Moreover, ‘preliminary review of this and other models indicates that the date of such relaxation is many weeks away.'”

“Some important final considerations: Concern about relaxing the safer-at-home policy too early is focused on the potential for unleashing a second serious wave of COVID-19 in the community. Even with an appropriately timed relaxation of the policy, it will be necessary to continue to support the foundational public health surveillance and investigation efforts,” officials said. “These entail prompt identification of COVID-19 cases (which requires adequate testing capability,) effective isolation of those cases and contact tracing to find those exposed to the cases so they can be appropriately counseled and quarantined. Without these essential public health services, new cases in the community that are not adequately isolated and investigated could result in another wave of COVID-19.”

Several USF leaders are expected to speak during the Monday afternoon meeting, but it is not immediately clear if they are the authors of the report.

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