Three local counties see high levels of COVID-19 spread, experts say

Parts of the Tampa Bay area are now showing high levels of COVID-19 spread, a leading expert at USF Health said Tuesday.

According to Dr. Jason Salemi, who analyzes COVID-19 data in Florida for USF Health, the CDC typically updates its weekly map of community COVID-19 spread on Thursdays, indicating areas of low, medium and high rates of infections.

Salemi believes, while the current map shows a medium level of spread for all of Tampa Bay, when the new map is released this week, it'll show the virus is spreading at a high level in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

"If you just piece together those disparate pieces of information on Hillsborough and the Tampa Bay area in general, we would be right on the borderline, but we would be in the high level," he said.

This comes following nine straight weeks of increased COVID-19 cases in Florida.

The average number of daily cases rose more than 50 percent in the last week, from about 5,600 a day to roughly 8,600, marking the highest number of daily cases since February. Additionally, roughly 1,700 adults are currently hospitalized with COVID in Florida.

Dr. Salemi, however, said this is where context matters.

"We are nowhere near pandemic highs. So, when I said that there was about 1,700 people currently hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19, at our peak in the pandemic it was 17,000, not 1,700," Salemi said.

Salemi believes prior infections from the Delta and Omicron waves, along with vaccinations, is leading to greater immunity.

"A lot of people do have prior infection now and recent prior infection and a lot of people have been vaccinated. And fortunately, a good number of people have also been boosted," Salemi said. "That's why, when we're seeing these increased case numbers, the increases in hospitalizations has been less pronounced. So the same increase in cases is not causing the same amount of severe illness."

Salemi said, because elderly people and those with compromised immune systems are still at high risk for severe infections, it's important for people living in areas of high spread to follow CDC guidelines, which include wearing masks indoors.