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 daily COVID-19 cases from May 7 through Friday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is 20% more than the previous week. This is the highest number of average daily cases since February.
Positivity rates in Tampa Bay and Florida also continue to climb. The state’s test positivity rate has reached 14%, according to the most recent federal data available. Positivity was 11% in Pinellas County and 10% in Hillsborough.
These are troubling signs as Florida approaches another pandemic summer, which has historically coincided with higher infection rates.
But experts are not yet sounding the alarm. At this point, the rise in infections is more of a “swell” than a wave similar to the delta and omicron, said University of Florida epidemiologist Thomas Hladish.
Hladish does not expect to see the explosive growth the country has seen after the arrival of the delta and omicron variants last year. If cases were to take off like this, he said, they would have done so by now.
The increase is due to an omicron sub-variant called BA.2.12.1. The subvariant is more contagious than its predecessors and now accounts for almost half of new infections in the southeast, according to CDC estimates.
Immunity from vaccination or previous infection appears to be holding up for most Floridians, Hladish said. That’s why the variant “slowly burns through a population that, whether through immunity or behavior, is currently susceptible (to infection),” he said.
That immunity won’t last forever, especially when less than half of Florida residents eligible for the recall have done so.
The state administered nearly 44,000 first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last week, down 10% from the previous week. And more than 30,000 Floridians have been boosted, down 30% from the previous week.
Getting vaccinated and boosted remains the best way to prevent serious illness and death. It’s a message that public health experts have repeated over and over as the United States stands on the verge of losing 1 million lives to COVID-19.
The United States could have prevented more than 300,000 deaths if every adult had been vaccinated, according to a new report from Brown University of Public Health earlier this week.
Florida will soon surpass 6 million infections during the 26-month pandemic. It also recorded 74,178 deaths, 123 of which were added last week.
Hospitalizations in the state are also slowly increasing, 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, up just 10% from the previous week.
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Local hospitals are also admitting more COVID-19 patients. AdventHealth West Florida Division officials reported a 60% increase in admissions from April 22. The hospital chain is treating 48 patients at its 13 hospitals between Ocala and Lake Placid.
The rise in admissions was weaker at Baycare, where there were 133 COVID patients at its 15 Tampa Bay-area hospitals on Friday, down from 122 three weeks ago.
Tampa General Hospital reported 27 COVID admissions on Friday, with five patients in intensive care.
While 67% of the total Florida population is vaccinated, two doses are no longer enough against omicron, BA.2.12.1 and possibly future variants. Vaccine immunity also wanes months after the last dose. Boosters can help, but only 26% of the state’s population has received additional shots.
There may also be trouble on the horizon. A new variant, BA.5, has taken off in South Africa, where cases have risen more than 450% in the past month, according to the COVID-19 tracking organization Our world in data.
When omicron first appeared in South Africa in November, cases increased by more than 2,600% within 2 weeks. Less than a month later, the variant arrived in the United States, causing the worst spike in the pandemic yet.
It’s too early to tell what threat BA.5 poses here, Hladish said. It is not yet known how quickly BA.5 spreads and to what extent it evades existing immunity. So far, 56 cases of BA.5 have been detected in the United States, including two in Florida, according to variant tracking organization GISAID.
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find free public COVID-19 testing sites in the Bay Area.
Florida: The Ministry of Health has a website which lists the test sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
United States: The Department of Health and Social Services has a website who 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 boosters for eligible recipients are being administered at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores 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 postal code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Immunization Hotline.
Call: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish, and other languages.
Disability Access and Information Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email [email protected]
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OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron has changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest information on how the infectious variant of COVID-19 is affecting masks, vaccines, recalls and quarantine.
CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Do you have questions about your child’s vaccination? Here are some answers.
REMINDER SHOTS: Not sure which COVID reminder to get? This guide will help you.
APPEAL QUESTIONS: Are there any side effects? Why do I need it? Here are the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how older people can stay safe from the virus.
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