While recent Covid-19 surges have often been attributed to low vaccination rates or loosened safety restrictions, public health experts suggest other factors may also contribute to the virus's rises and falls, German Lopez reports for Vox.
Toward the end of the summer, Florida became the center of the country's recent Covid-19 surge, reporting more hospitalizations and deaths than any other state. However, according to Lopez, health experts are still uncertain about what caused the state's outsized surge compared to the rest of the country.
In general, many coronavirus outbreaks in southern states over the summer were attributed to low vaccination rates in the region, which typically correlate to increased Covid-19 cases and deaths, Lopez reports. Currently, 7 of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates are in the South.
However, Florida is not one of these states, currently ranking 20th in the nation, with 56% of its population fully vaccinated—slightly above the national average. And during the peak of the state's Covid-19 surge in mid-August, around 51% of Florida's population was fully vaccinated, matching the national average at the time.
Another potential explanation for Florida's surge is its more relaxed public safety measures, but Lopez writes that it is unclear if these loosened restrictions actually changed how people behaved.
For example, based on mobility data from Google, Florida residents were 14% less likely to go to retail and recreational outlets in mid-August than before the pandemic, which was similar to the data for California residents and lower than New York residents. In addition, Carnegie Mellon University's COVIDcast research found that Florida residents were more likely to wear a mask than residents of New York. However, neither California nor New York saw surges as large as Florida's in August.
This information led Lopez to conclude that Florida's summer Covid-19 surge cannot be explained "solely [due to] reopenings and vaccinations."
According to Lopez, public health experts are still uncertain about why the prevalence of coronavirus seems to rise and fall, but they pointed out several common factors that could contribute to these cycles, including:
Although there is still uncertainty around what specifically causes Covid-19 surges, Lopez writes that being aware of these potential factors is important, especially since some, such as vaccination and safety precautions, are within people's control and can help prevent new surges.
"It might not get us all the way to the finish line—at least until far more people are fully vaccinated," Lopez writes, "but taking advantage of these things we do have control over can at least reduce the damage until the pandemic ends." (Lopez, Vox, 9/23)
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