New weekly COVID case count doubles in Florida; testing positivity tops 5% for first time since late September

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Florida’s COVID cases are climbing again, as the state on Friday reported more than double the number of newly documented cases for the week.

The increase comes as two coronavirus variants circulate across Florida and with outbreaks happening in pockets of the state. Even before Christmas and New Year’s have arrived, testing sites are swamped, positivity rates in counties are rising and the number of hospitalized COVID patients is increasing. The seven-week lull in new cases that followed the summer’s delta wave clearly is over.

Florida reported 29,568 new cases for the week on Friday, more than double the 13,530 new cases state health officials reported only a week ago.

The test positivity rose to 5.4%, up from 2.6% a week ago. Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%.

New cases for the week ending Dec. 16 are the highest reported since the last week of September, and it’s the first time case positivity is over 5% since the week of Sept. 23.

If the demand for COVID testing is any indication, the number of new cases likely will continue to increase.

Jacqueline Rodriguez, 27, tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday. A week later, she can’t get an appointment at the same Miami urgent care where she got swabbed a week ago because all time slots are filled. “So much has changed in a week,” she said. “What’s going on is nuts.”

For now, Florida is seeing only a small rise in COVID hospitalizations, while hospitals in northern and midwestern states are experiencing new peaks in admissions, driven by the unvaccinated.

“We have been here before and we are always on edge for when the next surge may come,” said Dr. Hayley Gershengorn, a critical care physician with the University of Miami Health System. “Compared to colleagues around the country, we are at a much easier moment than many of them are.”

In Florida, COVID hospital admissions are up 9.5% from last week, however, they are well below their summer peak. Still, those who care for COVID patients are not complacent.

“We are primed and ready to redeploy people and space if necessary,” Gershengorn said. “We have a very organized plan of action if the numbers get very high.”

In Broward, the number of hospitalized COVID patients rose from 96 a week ago to 140 on Friday. Palm Beach County hasn’t updated its COVID hospital dashboard since Oct. 18.

The detection of omicron in at least 25 states, including Florida, has health officials concerned that the variant could lead to an additional infection wave if it proves even more contagious than delta.

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s not worried because Florida has COVID treatment such as monoclonal antibodies easily accessible.

“We do anticipate on Jan. 1 seeing higher levels of COVID than on Nov. 1, but this is the seasonal pattern,” he said. “What you are seeing in the Northeast and Midwest is almost exactly the same seasonal pattern as last year.

“It’s about three to four weeks behind last year’s schedule. The rise and peak is happening very similar to what happened then.”

DeSantis said Florida is uniquely positioned to combat a rise in cases “with a variety of tools.”

He announced Friday that Florida will offer immunocompromised people an innovative pre-exposure treatment of monoclonal antibodies. That would be in addition to the early treatment of monoclonal antibodies offered at 25 sites in the state to those at high risk who have been newly diagnosed with COVID-19.

Although Florida’s case count is rising, it is below August when new cases reached as high as 151,675 in one week.

Still, Floridians continue to succumb to the disease. The COVID death count rose again for the week ending Dec. 16. There were 194 additional deaths reported. That brings the state’s overall death toll to 62,220 people, which includes 470 Floridians under age 30 — six more than last week.

The weekly count reported Friday reflects all deaths over the last week or even weeks prior that are newly confirmed with COVID as the cause of death.

Throughout the pandemic, a total of 3,739,348 people in the state have had COVID.

  • Palm Beach County on Friday reported 2,445 additional cases, up from 942 additional cases a week prior. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 231,638.
  • Broward County on Friday reported 4,770 additional cases, up from 1,524 additional cases, a week ago. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 367,706.
  • Miami-Dade County on Friday reported 11,689 additional cases, up from 2,771 additional cases a week earlier. The total number of confirmed cases in the county stands at 695,385.

Health officials reported a statewide positivity rate of 5.4%, double last week’s rate of 2.6%. At its worst, Florida’s test positivity climbed as high as 20.5% for the week ending Aug. 19.

In South Florida, the new case positivity rate rose in all three counties.

In Broward, it was 6.9%, up from 2.6% a week ago; in Palm Beach County, it was 6.5%, up from 2.3% a week ago; and in Miami-Dade, it was 7.0% up from 2% a week ago.

Hospitalizations for COVID are creeping up again.

As of Friday, 1,514 COVID patients were admitted, compared to 1,383 COVID patients a week ago. During the height of the delta wave, more than 17,000 COVID patients were hospitalized.

On Friday, COVID patients occupied only 2.6% of beds, up from 2.38% a week ago.

There also is an increase in COVID patients needing intensive care. Of those ICU beds that are full, only 4.49% were occupied by COVID patients up from 4.33% a week ago.

More Floridians were vaccinated this week, including a jump in the number of people receiving boosters.

The number of total COVID doses given out in the last week was 448,212, down from 528,287 doses for the week prior.

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Floridians received another 283,834 booster shots this week, slightly down from the 333,086 booster shots the prior week. That brings the total number of Floridians boosted to 3.7 million.

More than 10.9 million people in Florida ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Of those, 9 million have completed their two-dose series and 1.9 million people have received one shot.

The most heavily vaccinated age group in Florida is 65 and older, which is 90% vaccinated with at least one dose.

With the vaccine eligibility lowered, 12% of Florida’s 1.6 million children between ages 5 and 11 now have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

The number of people newly vaccinated, which includes children, was 91,841, compared to 104,995 the week prior. About 70% of people 5 and older in Florida are vaccinated with at least one dose.

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com or Twitter @cindykgoodman.

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