Cellphone data shows young people not social distancing, Tampa doctors say

Doctors from Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida were some of the chief backers of a new ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside all businesses in Hillsborough County. The measure comes amid a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

“We saw the floodgates open for young people who had been exposed to the virus mostly in social situations, either through their own social events or bars and restaurants,” said Dr. Jason Wilson at Monday’s virtual meeting of Hillsborough County’s Emergency Policy Group.

Wilson leads the emergency department at Tampa General Hospital. He said since last Wednesday, the median age of those testing positive for COVID-19 has fallen to 30 years old.

Hillsborough County reported 393 new cases Monday. That makes 2,012 cases since last Tuesday.

Wilson said emergency rooms at TGH and other hospitals in the county have been extremely busy in recent days.

Tampa General issued a statement Monday afternoon that said in part:

“We are still caring for COVID-19-positive patients and we have capacity for more. We have a surge plan that we can implement as necessary which includes increasing ICU capacity and accounts for the necessary staffing. The Tampa General Hospital Emergency Department is not a testing site for COVID-19. For the safety of our community, visits to the emergency department should occur only when a patient is experiencing critical symptoms. In many cases, patients are coming in and requesting tests when they are low-risk or not eligible based upon the timing of their potential exposure.”

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Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the USF medical school, told the group that cell phone data showed younger people were congregating in Hillsborough County and not practicing social distancing. He said that people shouldn’t take the virus lightly.

“It’s about twice as infectious as influenza and it is about 20 times as lethal,” said Lockwood.

A TGH official said a 24-year-old was recently admitted for COVID-19 and will likely need a ventilator. The same official said A 43-year-old died Monday morning.

Doctors told the group that young people may not feel sick immediately, or maybe at all, but they can pass the virus on to older and more vulnerable people.

Lockwood, Wilson, and Tampa General’s president and CEO, John Couris urged the group to pass the mandatory mask ordinance as a way to slow down the spread of the virus.