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The delta wave in Florida is in the rearview mirror, leaving in its wake more than 1.3 million Floridians infected and more than 18,000 dead from the disease since the surge began on June 19.
On Friday, Florida health officials reported 25,792 new cases for the week ending Oct. 7, the lowest weekly count since the delta variant of COVID-19 began ravaging the state.
The state’s most treacherous wave started in Florida in mid-June, rose to a peak on Aug. 16, and declined throughout September. As it made its way into rural and urban counties, the delta variant sent a record number of mostly unvaccinated Floridians of all ages to hospitals, including young children.
At its worst, Florida’s test positivity climbed as high as 20.5% for the week ending Aug 19. However, on Friday, health officials reported Florida’s test positivity plunged to 4.8%, an encouraging sign that a downturn is taking hold.
This week’s report marks the first time since the last week of June that the positivity rate dropped below 5%, the threshold that’s used to make public policy decisions.
“I think we can say we have come out of the delta wave,” said Stephen Kimmel, chair of the University of Florida’s Department of Epidemiology.
To be sure, COVID continues to send Floridians to the hospital, but not in the numbers seen just two months ago. As of Friday, 4,250 people are in a Florida hospital with COVID, compared to more than 17,000 in August.
Locally, the situation is improving significantly. For several weeks in August, Broward County had the most hospital COVID admissions of any county in the U.S. — more than 1,800 over a seven-day period. On Friday, Broward County’s new COVID hospital admissions for the last seven days were less than 300. Broward County has dropped to 19th in the country for new admissions.
“Delta came and left as expected, but it’s fair to say Florida did not do well,” Kimmel said. “We came out of the wave because so many got infected and died. I don’t consider the fact that the wave is over a success.”
At its most deadly point, COVID took the lives of about 375 people a day in Florida.
“The number is probably going to be even higher because of reporting delays,” said Scott David Herr, a Florida computer scientist who tracks COVID in Florida. On Friday, Florida reported 1,368 new COVID deaths, about 195 per day for the last week.
In total, 56,667 lives in Florida have been taken by COVID, about a third of them during the delta wave. Herr says Florida has had the highest number of COVID deaths of any state since July 1.
Throughout the state, the pandemic lingers, creeping into schools and workplaces, but at much lower rates.
Kimmell and other public health experts are closely watching whether cases rise again as they did last year around the holidays. “I hope we don’t see another wave and if we do, I hope it is less severe.”
Three critical factors he is watching: whether enough people are being vaccinated, whether waning immunity has an effect on new infections, and whether new, more infectious variants enter the state.
“For now, we probably have adequate immunity in the population to keep the numbers low,” said Dr. Cindy Prins, Assistant Dean for Educational Affairs at the University of Florida. “However, I do worry about that waning.”
Prins said delta proved as infectious in Florida as it did in other parts of the world. “It crept up and took a lot of us by surprise, but it really shouldn’t have,” she said. “It’s highly transmissible and affects a lot of people in a short amount of time.”
With new cases now tapering, Prins said the positive outcome of the surge is more Floridians got vaccinated who otherwise may not have. “It was a wake-up call for some people who were doing a wait and see. They realized they couldn’t wait. They had to take action.”
According to the report released Friday, 72% of eligible Floridians — 13.7 million people — are vaccinated with at least one dose. Counties in the panhandle have the lowest vaccination rates in the state while Miami Dade and Broward counties have the highest rates.
Throughout the pandemic, a total of 3,601,755 people in the state have had COVID.
- Palm Beach County on Friday reported 1,744 additional cases, down from 2,416 a week prior. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 221,820.
- Broward County on Friday reported 2,526 additional cases, down from 3,462 the week before. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 352,257.
- Miami-Dade County on Friday reported 3,816 additional cases, down from 5,027 a week earlier. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 665,202.
Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%. Florida has exceeded 5% in its widely publicized calculation for assessing the rate for testing of residents for the last three months.
While the positivity rate remains high, the state may be moving in a better direction. Health officials reported a statewide positivity rate of 4.8% on Friday, down from 6.5% a week ago and 8.6% two weeks ago. This method of calculating positivity counts new infections only but also counts repeat negative tests, which skews the figure downward.
In South Florida, the new case positivity rate declined in all three counties.
In Broward, it was 4.3%, down from 5.5% a week earlier; in Palm Beach County, it was 5%, down from 6.5% a week earlier; and in Miami-Dade, it was 2.9%, down from 3.7% a week earlier.
Florida has seen a major improvement in COVID hospitalizations.
As of Friday, 4,240 COVID patients were admitted compared to 5,414 COVID patients a week ago and about a quarter as many as just six weeks ago.
Health care workers are seeing some relief in their overcrowded COVID wards. On Friday, COVID patients occupied 7.4% of the beds compared to 9.3% of the beds a week ago.
There also is improvement in COVID patients needing intensive care. As of Friday, 81% of ICU beds are full compared with 95% in the last week of August. Of those beds that are full, only 17% are occupied by COVID patients.
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Hospitals report patients are younger than in prior waves and mostly unvaccinated.
The delta wave triggered an increase in vaccination. Now that new cases are lower, fewer Floridians are rushing to get COVID vaccines. The number of COVID doses given out in the last week has declined significantly to 311,720 compared with 532,835 for the week ending Aug 20.
Floridians received another 131,218 booster shots in the last seven days, bringing the total booster doses to 625,221.
In Florida, more than 13.7 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Of those, 11.3 million are fully vaccinated; 1.7 million have received one shot.
The most heavily vaccinated age group in Florida is 65 and older, which is 89% vaccinated, followed by the 60 to 64 age group, which is 84% vaccinated. The 20 to 29 age group is the least vaccinated, at 53%. Florida’s teens 12 to 19 are 55% vaccinated.
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @cindykgoodman.