As the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus rips through the unvaccinated population in the United States, Florida is heading toward its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
The state is still about one month away from its peak, according to an epidemiologist who has been tracking the virus’s reach there.
“Short term and long term, the cases are going to explode,” Edwin Michael, a professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, said in an interview on Monday. “We are predicting that the cases will be peaking the first week of September.”
Dr. Michael models predictions of the coronavirus statewide and in each Florida county, and his team’s work is used by officials and hospitals to support plans and responses to the pandemic.
“Our simulations show that if we don’t slow the hospitalizations, if we don’t prevent the wave of coming infections, we might exceed Florida’s bed capacity in early September,” he said.
In the last week, hospitals around the state are reporting an average of 1,525 adult hospitalizations and 35 pediatric hospitalizations a day, and cases have risen to levels not seen since January.
“We need a two-pronged approach,” Dr. Michael said. “Get as many people vaccinated as possible, especially the pediatric population. But to prevent the coming waves, we need to couple it with social-distancing measures and face-mask mandates.”
He lamented that it was too late for vaccinations — which take five weeks from the first dose to full protection — to prevent the coming peak, and he insisted that the only way to have a quick impact on the Labor Day wave was to have the extra protective measures.
“The next four weeks are going to be so crucial,” he said. “Schools and universities are reopening in Florida. This is going to be a dangerous period coming.”
The pace of vaccination has plunged since April. That, coupled with a collapse in people taking precautions, allowed Delta to flourish. “Barely 5 percent are practicing social measures,” he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has opposed mask mandates and vaccine requirements and has restricted local officials’ ability to put steps in place that, scientists say, would stem the rising tide of cases.
On Friday, Mr. DeSantis barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes begin next week, leaving it to parents to decide whether their children wear masks in school.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns,” Mr. DeSantis said. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates.”