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The Next Big Coronavirus Outbreak Will Be From This State

A rise in cases and positive tests means trouble for the South.
Jacksonville skyline and fountain, Florida.

With coronavirus hotspots emerging as states reopen—Oregon, Arizona and Texas are setting records for cases this week—a new study reports "tension" between reopening and resurgence of COVID-19, with one state most likely to be the center of the next big outbreak: Florida.

"The most concerning areas for additional widespread community transmission continue to be in Texas, Arizona, the Carolinas and, once again, Florida," report a team of scientists at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, who have been modeling out projections. "In fact, Florida has all the makings of the next large epicenter…the risk there is the worst it has ever been in our projections. Miami and Florida's southeastern counties now join the Tampa/Fort Myers area and Orlando for a fairly widespread transmission event that we forecast will continue throughout the state."

The state recently had its "15th straight day of more than 1,000 new cases. Tuesday set a new single-day record for new infections, with 2,783, a number almost matched on Wednesday," reports Slate. "The state now has over 80,000 cases and has reported more than 3,000 deaths."

Officials like Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vice President Mike Pence have attributed the rising cases to increased testing. However, Slate talked to Cindy Prins, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, who said that "if testing was responsible, there would be a fairly neat correlation between tests and cases. But while there has been a continued growth in cases since around June 2, testing has been more erratic."

Nonetheless, Florida officials refuse to shut down again. "We're not rolling back," DeSantis said on Tuesday, adding that "the negative effects of that would far exceed any gains you're getting. You have to have society function."

The Virus Travels the Highways

Florida is not the only state in the South seeing increases, according to the researchers. "Alabama is flaring back up, and we're detecting new risk in Louisiana, particularly in the neighboring parishes to New Orleans, which should be concerning to the Big Easy," say the modelers. "Three weeks out from Memorial Day weekend, we've also now seen the full effects of increased holiday travel hammering southern vacation destinations, even as the Northeast and Midwest continue to maintain steady case projections. Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, S.C., are particularly concerning, but so is Galveston, Texas, and Lake Charles, La."

The virus can be traced to the highways, as people travel, carrying COVID-19 with them. "For example, Galveston has felt the impacts of people traveling in from Houston to go to the beach," say the authors about Texas. "The forecasts we released today reveal that cases are also rapidly increasing along the popular South Carolina coast, and, as mentioned earlier, risk for resurgence has spread rapidly along the coastal I-95 corridor of Florida. On the West Coast, we had been following for several weeks the outbreaks in the Imperial and Inland Empire areas of southern California. Over the last two weeks, our forecasts have shown that that risk appears be spreading south to north along the I-5 corridor in the Central Valley."

Not All Bad News

The researchers did find some positive signs that containment measures were still in effect in certain states. "On a bright note, though, we are now seeing some evidence of changing behavior, which may help to quell these outbreaks," the report. "From Nashville, to Houston, to Richmond, to Phoenix, to Salt Lake City, people have not continued to relax social distancing, which we measure as change in travel to non-essential businesses. How quickly that translates to flattening their risk curves will bear watching." To protect yourself: Continue to practice social distancing; wear a face covering; wash your hands frequently; and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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