Doctors: Ending the pandemic requires masks, social distancing and a vaccine

The masks, the social distancing, the daily drumbeat of new infections; could this all be over by the end of April? One of the University of South Florida’s leading experts on the virus says it could, but it all depends on how everyone handles the next four months.

Dr. Edwin Michael told Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday that we could “crush” COVID-19 by the end of April. The statements were met with cautious optimism.

Doctors say that's the right way to look at it because this is not the time to let down our guards.

"I guarantee, with the vaccines coming, by the end of April, we are done," Dr. Michael said during Wednesday’s virtual meeting. "After that you can reopen the economy fully with no more social measures because that herd immunity will prevent."

Michael is among the first local experts to put a potential end-date on the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Michael said the end is dependent on several factors, including masks, social distancing, and the vaccine.

"Hunker down and comply and go and take the vaccines. Only then can you reopen by the end of April," Michael said. "If 50% of the people are refusing the take the vaccines it will take much longer for herd immunity to develop.”

MORE: 10,870 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Thursday; 98 new deaths

Reaching 70-80% immunization is needed to reach herd immunity – which is the point at which enough of the population is vaccinated against a disease that those unable to be vaccinated have a very low risk of contracting it.

Dr. Michael also pointed out that the vaccine will not be available in time to prevent the current wave of cases from continuing to climb. Our only defenses against it are masks and social distancing. Even still, he says we’re looking at an early February peak as people travel and gather for the holidays.

One of Dr. Michael’s colleagues at USF, Dr. Marissa Levine explained, "It really takes three things to increase transmission and that's the virus, people, and then the right environment. Right now we have a really worrisome combination of the three."

She says social and holiday gatherings, combined with travel, are driving the current surge.

"Right now is really a critical time for people to really plan out how they're going to spend the three or four weeks and even the next couple of months [doing],” she said.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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