COVID-19 is on the rise again in Florida, fueled by omicron BA.5 subvariant
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COVID-19 is rising again across Florida after a couple of weeks of appearing to slow down, new federal data showed Friday.
Coronavirus patient counts broke above 4,000 this week for the first time since Feb. 17. Hospitals statewide tended to 4,046 COVID-positive patients Friday, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported.
COVID patient tallies grew by more than 100 a week in late June, but has spiked by more than 300 weekly since July 4.
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Hospitalizations and case counts have grown so much that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor masking in almost every part of Florida to prevent strain on local medical facilities. There are a few big exceptions, such as Collier County — home to Naples — along with Glades and Flagler counties, and parts of the western Panhandle.
Cities, counties and schools in Florida cannot enforce indoor mask requirements because of executive orders and laws Gov. Ron 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.
Cases climbed statewide by an average of more than 73,000 a week over the past two weeks, state Health Department figures released Friday show. That’s slightly lower than the weekly averages Florida health officials have logged since June 17.
Omicron subvariant BA.5 dominant in Florida, U.S.
But many infections these days go unreported with the rise of at-home testing.
The nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Tuesday that the increased hospitalizations — including an uptick in the number of COVID-19 patients who wind up in intensive care units — likely reflected a big rise in the number of unreported infections.
Still, other official data points show a COVID resurgence, driven by the latest strain of an omicron subvariant, dubbed BA.5.
Coronavirus concentrations have more than doubled in Hillsborough County sewage between July 6 and Wednesday, according to samples collected by Boston-based laboratory Biobot Analytics. Viral loads in wastewater have also been climbing in Orange and Seminole counties in Central Florida.
Florida’s COVID death toll climbed by an average of 386 people weekly since state health officials’ last pandemic report released July 1. That’s slightly lower than the weekly average calculated for the two weeks prior, and much lower than during the omicron and delta variant surges.
At least 76,662 Floridians have died since the start of the pandemic, state auditors reported last month.
The BA.5 omicron subvariant has recently become dominant among new U.S. cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Tuesday that it accounted for more than 60% of all new infections.
The White House has been watching as it has marched across Europe and South Africa. Experts say it appears able to evade some antibodies from previous infections and vaccines, though they say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease.
The strain has circulated in Florida since May at least, test samples collected by the GISAID initiative show.
The DeSantis administration used to regularly send coronavirus variant reports to a consortium of news outlets showing the share of cases and deaths in each county, along with infected people’s age, gender, race, ethnicity and their recent travel history. More than two months have passed since the state’s last report.
At least 15.9 million people statewide have gotten at least one shot of the COVID vaccine, state health officials reported Friday. That includes about 5.8 million with boosters. But Florida overcounts inoculations by hundreds of thousands of people because vaccine providers have been erroneously classifying out-of-staters as Florida residents.
About 72% of the eligible population ages 6 months or older have been at least partially inoculated, the state says.
That includes about 1% of eligible children younger than 4 years old. Unlike every other governor, DeSantis blocked physicians in the state last month from preordering COVID vaccines for kids in that age group.
Reporting from the Associated Press and The New York Times was used in this story.
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: COVID cases rising in Florida, BA.5 omicron variant now dominant