Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are again increasing, ending months of steady decline that began when widespread vaccinations became available and leaving doctors and epidemiologists worried as the more infectious delta variant spreads.
About 3,200 COVID patients are hospitalized in the state, a jump of 73% since June 14, when 1,845 were hospitalized. The number had been falling since mid-January when nearly 7,800 were hospitalized just as the vaccination program began. Meanwhile, the number of vaccinations administered weekly has fallen by almost 80% statewide since April even though less than 60% of the population 12 and older is fully vaccinated.
Florida now has the fourth-highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the U.S., behind Nevada, Missouri and Arkansas, according to Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist tracking the national outbreak for more than a year.
While hospitalizations trail the start of an outbreak by about two weeks, they are considered a more accurate barometer of the disease’s status than the number of reported cases, which can vary by availability of testing and other factors. Still, the number of reported cases in Florida nearly doubled last week, from 23,000 to 45,000.
Dr. Shamarial Roberson, the state’s deputy health secretary, said Friday the case increase is mostly among younger people who are less likely to be severely affected. She said more than 80% of residents 65 and over are vaccinated.
In late January, about 180 Floridians were dying per day of the disease, just below the peak of 200 per day last August. Last week, the average was about nine per day, according to the state, a 95% drop. The number of deaths typically increase a few weeks after cases and hospitalizations rise. Almost all COVID deaths and hospitalizations nationally in recent weeks have been among the unvaccinated, officials have said.
Overall, more than 38,000 Floridians with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated that even with the increasing cases, there will be no mandates requiring vaccinations, masks or social distancing. He has pushed for the state to be fully open, a stance he is using politically as he contemplates a 2024 presidential bid.
His 2022 gubernatorial reelection campaign is selling T-shirts and beer koozies that read “Don’t Fauci My Florida,” referring to Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top government infectious disease official. Fauci has pushed a more cautious approach that includes wearing masks in public.
At an Orlando new conference, DeSantis blamed the new outbreak on the disease’s seasonal pattern.