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Is the pandemic over? A local epidemiologist weighs in


Thousands of Floridians will be kicked off Medicaid next month as the continuous enrollment provision is removed from states this Saturday ahead of the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, later in May.

With the federal response to COVID fading, is that a sign that the pandemic is over? Case infection reports would say otherwise.

Current state data show Orange County’s COVID positivity rate is at 7.6% compared to 8.5% for the entire state. Both of those numbers are well over the World Health Organization’s recommendation of a positivity rate of 5% or lower.

Numbers in Central Florida are in a lull compared to the Winter rise, similar to what was observed last Spring just before the Summer spike, data shows.

While the federal government tones down its COVID response, the pandemic still has a threat of unexpected spikes and potentially deadly variants, said Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist.

“To me, as long as we're still dealing with that situation of you know, a good bit of unknowns. I still feel like we're in a pandemic,” Prins said. "As you look across there is still COVID everywhere, and there are different levels of COVID across the world, and to me, I don't think we've hit that point yet where we kind of have that endemic Oh, we know what to expect.”

Dr. Cindy Prins a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida.
Dr. Cindy Prins a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida.

The end of the Public Health Emergency, May 11, means that the federal government will no longer receive additional funds from Congress to continue purchasing vaccines, tests, masks, and treatments — staples of the pandemic. However, President Joe Biden's administration’s continued response to COVID-19 is not fully dependent on the PHE, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement, and there are actions that will not be affected during the transition from government control to the traditional healthcare marketplace.

HHS also said there will be access to pathways for emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 products, like tests and vaccines, through the Food and Drug Administration.

Government actions indicate that officials are preparing for COVID to remain in the foreseeable future.

Prins agrees.

"My expectation is that we're going to see what we've seen in past years," she said. "Starting late spring or the beginning of summertime I do expect to see cases starting to come up a little bit again. That could possibly be May. It could be June. It depends on how the summer is going with people traveling and getting together more often. It seems like cases always drift upward again around that time"

That being the case Prin offers friendly advice to anyone with travel plans.

"I always tell people to have their backup plan in place. Get trip insurance," she said. "(COVID) is not gone. It can still affect you"

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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