Scientists view Florida — the state furthest along in lifting restrictions, reopening society and welcoming tourists — as a bellwether for the nation.
If recent trends there are any indication, the rest of the country may be in trouble.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida has been steadily rising, though hospitalizations and deaths are still down. Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from its average two weeks earlier.
B.1.1.7, the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, is also rising exponentially in Florida, where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Florida has had one of the country’s most confusing and inefficient vaccination campaigns, and has fully vaccinated about 15 percent of its population — well below what top states, like New Mexico and South Dakota, have managed. Still, immunization of older people and other high-risk individuals may blunt the number of Florida’s deaths somewhat. The state has announced it will start offering the vaccine to anyone over age 18 on April 5.
At least some of the cases in Florida are the result of the state’s open invitation to tourists. Hordes of students on spring break have descended on the state since mid-February. Rowdy crowds on Miami Beach this month forced officials to impose an 8 p.m. curfew, although many people still flouted the rules.
Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, has experienced one of the nation’s worst outbreaks, and continues to record high numbers. The county averaged more than 1,100 cases per day over the past week.
In Orange County, cases are on the rise among young people. People 45 and younger account for one in three hospitalizations for Covid, and the average age for new infections has dropped to 30.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has rejected stringent restrictions from the very start of the pandemic. Florida has never had a mask mandate, and in September Mr. DeSantis banned local governments from enforcing mandates of their own. Among his scientific advisers now are architects of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for political leaders to allow the coronavirus to spread naturally among young people, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions sheltered in place.