As COVID-19 cases spike exponentially across Florida, federal health officials raised health care risk levels this week for some of the state’s biggest urban areas.
COVID now poses a “medium” risk of straining health care systems in South Florida, including Palm Beach County; the Treasure Coast, Tampa Bay and the Sarasota area, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Public transport passengers should wear masks, as should people at severe risk of illness when indoors, the agency said.
As the pathogen’s omicron subvariants fuel the latest surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations, the CDC has moved more counties from “low” risk to “medium.” Those counties span from Monroe up the east coast through St. Lucie.Okeechobee; Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando; and Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto are also included.
The counties earned the CDC’s “medium” risk classification after their caseloads broke 200 new confirmed infections for every 100,000 residents in the past week.
The CDC says COVID poses a “low” risk of straining health-care systems in the rest of Florida’s counties. The federal agency does not recommend indoor masking in those places. But immunocompromised people should ensure they have easy access to rapid testing. At-home tests can be ordered from the federal government for free online at covid.gov/tests.
Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 now more than half of cases in South
Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 now comprises about 52% of cases in the South, CDC samples of test results show, while its relative BA.2 has declined to about 47%.
Statewide, COVID cases have climbed an average 49,815 each week since May 6, figures from the Florida Health Department show. That’s almost twice as many cases weekly compared with the two weeks before May 6, and almost three times as many as the two weeks before that.
Florida health officials have logged more then 6 million cases since the start of the pandemic.
Many cases go unreported because of at-home testing or asymptomatic people not getting tested. The CDC estimates the virus has infected 56% to 61% of Floridians, based on a sample of 1,685 antibody test results collected from commercial labs Feb. 1 to 21. The special tests confirm if someone’s immune system has made antibodies through coronavirus infection.
COVID hospitalizations continue climbing statewide, but have not yet at an exponential pace.
White House response coordinator:US ‘vulnerable’ to COVID without new shots
The number of COVID-positive patients in Florida’s hospitals climbed this past week by an average of 41 people daily, U.S. Health and Human Services Department data reported Friday shows.
It has taken 38 days for average daily growth in coronavirus hospitalizations to reach that level.
When average daily hospitalizations started climbing from Dec. 5 due to omicron, it took just 17 days to blow past that level.
But hospitalizations could spike over the next month, former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned on Monday in West Palm Beach. “It’s early. Give it a few weeks. Hospitalizations grow linearly, then become exponential,” she said.
Medical staff statewide tended to an estimated 1,671 COVID-positive patients Friday, including an estimated 169 adults in intensive care units.
Adult ICU patients comprise about 10% of COVID-positive adult patients statewide, a ratio that has remained virtually unchanged since April 25. Before then, the percentage was consistently above that level.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration has yet to begin delineating patients who come to the hospital because of COVID, compared with patients who test positive while staying there. Gov. Ron DeSantis said in January that the state would begin doing that.
Florida’s COVID death toll climbed by an average of 135 people weekly since May 6, the last time the state published its bi-weekly pandemic report. That’s higher than the weekly average between April 22 and May 6, but still equivalent to late December.
At least 74,330 Florida residents have died since the start of the pandemic.
The state Health Department’s COVID vaccination count continues to slowly shrink.
State health officials said Friday that 15,464,021 residents statewide have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, down by 5,139 since April 22. Health Department Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern has said this is because the state’s inoculation tallies are preliminary.
More than 5.24 million residents statewide have gotten booster shots, health officials reported Friday, which provide the most protection against omicron and its subvariants.
About three in four Floridians have gotten at least one shot, and one in four have gotten boosters.
Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post’s data reporter. Email him at email@example.com.