COVID-19 infections continue to rise, but experts are not ready to declare a new pandemic wave in Florida.
The state averaged more than 5,600 COVID-19 cases per day from May 7 through Friday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 20 percent more than the previous week. It is the highest number of average daily cases since February.
Positivity rates in Tampa Bay and Florida also continue to rise. The state’s test positivity rate reached 14 percent, according to the most recent available federal data. Positivity was 11 percent in Pinellas County and 10 percent in Hillsborough.
Those are worrying signs as Florida heads into another pandemic summer, which has historically coincided with higher infection rates.
But experts aren’t sounding the alarm yet. At this point, the surge in infections is more of a “swell” than a wave similar to delta and omicron, said University of Florida epidemiologist Thomas Hladish.
Hladish does not expect to see the explosive growth that the country experienced after the arrival of the delta and omicron variants last year. If cases were going to take off like this, he said, they would have already done so.
The increase is driven by an omicron sub-variant called BA.2.12.1. The subvariant is more infectious than its predecessors and now accounts for nearly half of new infections in the Southeast, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dear.
Immunity from prior vaccination or infection appears to hold for most Floridians, Hladish said. That’s why the variant is “slowly burning through a population that, either through immunity or behavior, is susceptible (to infection) right now,” he said.
That immunity won’t last forever, especially when less than half of Floridians who are eligible for the booster have done so.
The state administered nearly 44,000 first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last week, down 10 percent from the previous week. And more than 30,000 Floridians benefited, down 30 percent from the previous week.
Getting vaccinated and boosted remains the best way to prevent serious illness and death. It’s a message public health experts have repeatedly echoed as the US stands on the brink of 1 million lives lost to COVID-19.
The United States could have prevented more than 300,000 deaths if all adults had been vaccinated, according to a new report from Brown Public Health University earlier this week.
Florida will soon surpass 6 million infections during the 26-month pandemic. It has also seen 74,178 deaths, 123 of which were added in the past week.
Hospitalizations in the state are also slowly rising, which experts say is an encouraging sign that prior immunity still protects most people from serious infections. Florida hospitals admitted 1,754 COVID-19 patients last week, just 10 percent more than the previous week.
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Local hospitals are also admitting more COVID-19 patients. Officials with the AdventHealth West Florida division reported a 60 percent increase in admissions compared to April 22. The hospital chain is treating 48 patients at its 13 hospitals between Ocala and Lake Placid.
The increase in admissions was smaller at Baycare, where there were 133 COVID patients at its 15 hospitals in the Tampa Bay region as of Friday, up from 122 three weeks ago.
Tampa General Hospital reported 27 COVID admissions as of Friday, with five patients in intensive care.
Although 67 percent of the total Florida population is vaccinated, two doses are no longer sufficient against omicron, BA.2.12.1, and perhaps future variants. Immunity to the vaccine also declines months after the last dose. Boosters can help, but only 26 percent of the state’s population have received additional injections.
There may also be trouble on the horizon. A new variant, BA.5, has taken off in South Africa, where cases have risen by more than 450 percent in the past month, according to the COVID-19 monitoring organization. Our world in data.
When omicron first appeared in South Africa in November, cases skyrocketed by more than 2,600% in 2 weeks. Less than a month later, the variant reached the US, triggering the worst spike yet in the pandemic.
It’s too early to tell what threat BA.5 poses here, Hladish said. Much remains unknown about how quickly BA.5 spreads and how well it evades existing immunity. So far, 56 cases of BA.5 have been detected in the US, including two in Florida, according to the variant tracking organization GISAID.
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the Free public COVID-19 testing sites in the bay area.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website which lists testing sites in the state. Some of the information may be out of date.
The United States: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a test site.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and older and booster shots for eligible recipients are administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, supermarkets, and public vaccination sites. Many allow you to book appointments online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: To visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your zip code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline.
Telephone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish, and other languages.
Information line and access for the disabled: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. here is the latest about how the infectious variant of COVID-19 affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantine.
CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Do you have questions about how to vaccinate your child? Here are some answers.
REINFORCEMENT SHOT: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help you.
REINFORCEMENT QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Because I need it? Here are the answers to your questions..
PROTECTING THE ELDERLY: This is how older people can stay safe from the virus.
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