The latest COVID-19 wave in Florida may be cresting, hospital reports indicate, while the weekly statewide death toll spiked by more than 1,000 residents for the first time in more than three months.
The number of COVID-positive patients statewide grew by 129 this week, the smallest seven-day increase since April 26, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported Friday.
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Hospitalization statistics usually lag the newly reported positive test results.
Florida medical staff tended to 3,322 COVID-positive patients, HHS said Friday, including 323 adults in intensive care units.
The adult ICU patient count is more than triple the tally in late April and early May, but only about a fifth as bad as during the peak of the original omicron variant wave and less than one-tenth as severe as the height of the delta wave last summer.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said in January that his administration would report patients who came to the hospital with COVID separately from those who tested positive while there. That has yet to happen.
He has speculated that the severity of the disease has been exaggerated because of patients who come to emergency departments for non-COVID reasons but are diagnosed in the hospital.
In another sign that the latest surge has peaked, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Florida's COVID case count increased by 73,827 since state health officials' June 19 report.
That's slightly lower than the seven-day average of about 74,000 the Florida Health Department reported for the previous two weeks.
COVID has infected more than 6.4 million Florida residents. With the rise of at-home testing, many cases go unreported. And thanks to vaccination and immunity gained from prior infection, those who catch the virus might not consider testing because they don't feel COVID-like symptoms.
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The CDC estimates the airborne pathogen has infected 56% to 61% of Floridians, based on a sample of 1,685 antibody test results collected from commercial labs Feb. 1-21. The special tests confirm if someone's immune system has made antibodies through coronavirus infection.
Sewage samples collected this week from across Florida showed declines in coronavirus concentrations since earlier this month, according to wastewater reports published Thursday by Boston-based laboratory Biobot Analytics.
Indicators such as wastewater testing can be predictive of COVID-19 trends. Infected people often shed the most virus at the beginning of their infection. Sewage testing can give the public and health officials a five- to 10-day lead on the prevalence of new cases.
Florida's coronavirus death toll, reported by the CDC, spiked by 1,112 residents from the state Health Department's tally June 19. It's the biggest one-week increase since the week ending March 4.
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It can take weeks for victims to make their way into official COVID death statistics. For that reason, waves of newly reported deaths follow waves of new cases and hospitalizations.
Health officials have documented 75,491 fatalities among residents since the start of the pandemic.
Florida's official death toll excludes more than 3,000 victims who died in 2020 from March to October and for which physicians listed the disease as a main cause of death, a report released June 6 by the Florida Auditor General revealed.
CDC still recommends most of Florida mask up while indoors
Even if the latest coronavirus surge is peaking statewide, cases and hospitalizations remain so high that the CDC recommends masking up indoors in most Florida counties to keep the disease from burdening local health-care systems.
Hospitals in all counties along the state's east coast, except St. Johns, are at high risk of being strained because of COVID, the federal health agency said Thursday.
Florida's west coast from Citrus County (two counties north of Tampa) all the way to Florida's tip, as well as most inland counties from Alachua (Gainesville)south, are in the high-risk category.
The Panhandle's three westernmost counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa — are also in the CDC's high-risk zone.
The CDC categorizes counties into low, medium and high-risk zones based on newly reported cases and hospitalizations.
Indoor masking is recommended in high-risk counties. But cities, counties and schools in Florida cannot enforce indoor mask requirements because of executive orders and laws DeSantis signed last year. In April, a federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump struck down the CDC’s mask requirements for trains, planes and buses.
Florida is the only state in the U.S. that did not preorder COVID vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5. The DeSantis administration recommends against inoculating them. But some medical facilities, which were qualified to preorder directly from the federal government, offer the shots.
The Health Care District of Palm Beach County plans to start inoculating young children Tuesday at its C.L. Brumback Primary Care that have pediatric care. Parents whose kids are "established patients" with the district, or who have no pediatrician and seek the district to be their providercan get children vaccinated at its clinics.
More than 17 million residents statewide have at least one shot in their arms, including 6 million with boosters, the CDC said Friday.
But its total inoculation count is about 1.8 million people higher than the Florida Health Department. The CDC counts federal personnel and others in Florida while state health officials don't.
At the same time, the state Health Department overcounts inoculations by more than 600,000 people because vaccine providers have been erroneously classifying out-of-staters as Florida residents.
Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post's data reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida COVID death toll spikes, vaccines for kids under 5 begin