Florida hospitals are experiencing an alarming increase in revenue from COVID-19 and health operators in the state are preparing to reintroduce preventive measures such as suspension of visits.
The increase in cases is due to the more contagious Delta variant of the virus and a large proportion of Floridians who remain unvaccinated, according to health experts, as well as the relaxation of social distancing and other prevention measures.
The rise in new infections and hospitalizations in Florida also reflects a national and global increase, although Florida leads most other states in case counts.
Florida ranks fourth for COVID-19 hospitalizations per capita in the United States, behind Arkansas, Missouri and Nevada.
New coronavirus infections rose nearly 70% in a week, U.S. public health authorities reported Friday, with nearly every state reporting an increase. However, the White House noted that nearly 1 in 5, or 20% of new COVID-19 cases, occurred in Florida, which only accounts for 6% of the US population.
Nationwide, hospitalizations have increased 45% and deaths 75% over the past two weeks.
The reappearance of the pandemic caused sharp falls in financial markets on Monday, threatening to slow the strong recovery of the economy, although stock market numbers partially recovered on Tuesday.
“Florida has seen an explosion of cases in the last two to three weeks,” said Dr. Manuel Gordillo, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. “There are many states, especially those with lower vaccination rates, that are experiencing spikes with covid, especially with Delta variants,” he added.
New cases and hospitalizations
The number of new infections reported weekly by the Florida Department of Health has more than quadrupled in one month, from 10,095 cases in the week ending June 17 to 45,603 on Friday.
Florida hospital admissions for covid-19 have increased 250% in the past month, from 1,764 patients on June 19 to 4,100 on July 17, according to Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of South Florida. in Tampa, which has been following the pandemic.
Miami’s Jackson Health System – the largest in the state – said the number of HIV-positive patients admitted to its three hospitals had jumped from 66 on July 6 to 143 on Tuesday, an increase of 117%. He announced that he would suspend visits to many of his facilities as of Wednesday and that the use of masks will be required in all non-clinical areas for everyone, including those who are fully vaccinated.
“Smaller than it was”
Other South Florida hospitals are reporting similar increases in the past six weeks, although the current number of hospitalized coviral patients is still only half the number in July 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak.
Florida hospitals have not suspended elective surgeries or asked the state or federal government to send reinforcements of nurses, respiratory assistants and other healthcare workers.
“It’s much smaller than it was, yet it’s a relatively easy job to find the unvaccinated and drive this wave,” Gordillo said.
On the bright side, public health experts say that vaccines are proving to be very effective in preventing serious illness and even death.
Still, the acceleration in the trajectory of new cases is a clear danger sign, warned Dr. José Szapocznik, professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“Where will we be in a month or two if we do not intervene to change the direction of cases today? At the very least, we should wear masks and increase our vaccination efforts,” he added.
According to Szapocznik, at the current rate, there is a risk to both Florida’s health and economic recovery. “Once the number of cases has risen too high, it will affect the economy because people will stop coming to Florida and those of us who live here will reduce our exits abroad,” he said.
To put the surge in new positive cases in context, Salemi says Florida tested about 59,000 people in late May who had never tested positive. Among those who underwent the tests, only 2,239 new cases were detected. In the second week of July, some 57,000 people were tested and almost three times as many new cases, 6,515, were detected.
The rapid pace of vaccinations in the first half of this year led to expectations that the virus would be eliminated quickly, prompting many states, such as Florida, to lift restrictions. But the rate of vaccinations has slowed since then, coinciding with the arrival of the Delta variant from India.
“Epidemic of the unvaccinated”
Between 95% and 99% of new cases they are people who have not been vaccinated, according to Dr. Robert Goldszer, medical director of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
“There is a convergence of issues,” Gordillo said. “This has basically morphed into the epidemic of the unvaccinated. Once the Delta variant enters the population, we know that it is going to find the targets and the targets are the unvaccinated,” he said.
“Once there is more mobility in a population, when people interact more, especially indoors, and get into crowded environments, and above all without masks, because that is a recipe that the virus loves,” he added.
According to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, the Delta variant now represents 83% of all cases of covirus in the United States, an increase of 33% compared to two ago weeks. Walensky added that 99.5% of all COVID-19-related deaths in the country in recent months have occurred among unvaccinated Americans.
Alerts are lit in the US due to the rapid increase in coronavirus cases in more than 40 states
There are still 8 million people of vaccine age in Florida who are not vaccinated, according to official state data. Most of them are young and less likely to develop serious illnesses. While more than 83% of people over 65 have been vaccinated, there are still nearly one million people over 65 who are not vaccinated.
About 11.3 million Floridians have been fully or partially vaccinated, approximately 59% of Floridians who are 12 years or older.
“Vaccines are doing their job,” Salemi said, citing official CDC figures showing that only about 5,500 people have been hospitalized or died after being fully vaccinated, out of 159 million fully vaccinated. “That’s 0.003%, or 1 in 29,000 people,” he said.
The vaccines were designed to prevent severe disease from the virus and have shown high rates of efficacy. But they do not prevent infection completely. “We should expect that many fully vaccinated people will continue to test positive and even have mild symptoms, as the spread in the community remains high,” Salemi said.
“This does not mean that vaccines are ineffective. But it does remind us that fully vaccinated people can still become infected and spread this more transmissible variant to others,” he added.