Florida recorded more than 17,000 coronavirus cases Thursday, capping off a year that brought more than a million cases of the virus to Florida and left hundreds of thousands dead nationwide. It is the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases Florida has seen.
The Florida Department of Health announced 17,192 cases Thursday, bringing the total to 1,323,315 since the first publicly announced infection in March. The weekly case average increased to about 12,702 cases announced per day.
Over the summer, Florida shattered national records when it recorded more than 15,000 cases in one day. Since then, only California and Texas have reported higher single-day increases.
On Wednesday about 166,000 tests were processed, resulting in a daily positivity rate of 11.57 percent, according to state data which is updated and reported every 24 hours.
“The number we’re getting now is probably an underestimate of the disease,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida.
Levine said some cases may never be counted by state officials because testing is just not widespread enough. She said she anticipates increases in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths next. With Florida’s lax restrictions, Levine said “it’s just a matter of time” until a variant strain of the coronavirus is identified here, as it was earlier this week in California and Colorado.
Jason Salemi, a professor of epidemiology at USF who updates his own data dashboard, warned people not to be too concerned by what happens in a single day compared to a trend, but said the trends itself were concerning, with numbers increasing since Thanksgiving. Of particular concern, he said, is the pronounced increase in cases of those over 65 years old.
“When community spread is as high as it’s been, it makes it very difficult to protect the vulnerable,” he said. “The best way is to prevent community spread. ...After the summer surge, that’s when we saw people participate in mitigatory behavior and that’s when the numbers went down.”
Jay Wolfson, senior associate dean of USF’s Morsani College of Medicine, said he doesn’t anticipate numbers improving before February.
“There’s an awful lot of gray, if not dark, news out there,” he said. “But it’s come at a time when some really hard work has created some light at the end of the tunnel that is real: that is the vaccines.”
Health officials also logged 133 deaths from the virus Thursday. Statewide, 21,990 people have died. The weekly death average increased to about 117 people announced dead per day.
The nation also reported record breaking deaths this week. The United States tracked a record high daily COVID-19 death toll Wednesday, topping the peak reached just a day earlier. More than 3,740 peopled died of coronavirus Wednesday, up from 3,725 Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.
“Now is the time to become even more diligent and focused,” Wolfson said. “Folks are going to have to be patient. Even though there’s going to be that light behind us, that’s the train from Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s.”
Vaccinations: As of Thursday, 211,165 people in Florida have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. It increased by 35,700 people from Wednesday.
In Hillsborough County, 13,562 people have been vaccinated; in Pinellas, 13,559; in Polk, 3,248; in Manatee, 3,298; in Pasco, 4,259; in Hernando, 1,462; and in Citrus, 905.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties have vaccinated the most people so far, followed by Orange, then Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
The rollout of the vaccine has been a slow and confusing process for many in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis said last week that residents 65 and older can get the vaccine, but many have struggled to find information on when and where they can sign up to do so.
If more people are hospitalized because of COVID-19, Levine said that stress on the hospital system could affect the rollout of vaccines.
“If the health care system is overwhelmed, it impacts the ability to adequately and efficiently vaccinate,” she said.
Salemi said he hopes news of the vaccine does not make people less vigilant.
“We’re a long way from the vaccine doing the work for us,” he said.
Hospitalizations: About 6,320 people are hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of coronavirus statewide, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. About 1,300 are in the Tampa Bay area.
Cases that led to a hospitalization increased by 366 admissions.
Statewide, about 22 percent of hospital beds and 18 percent of intensive care unit beds were available. In Tampa Bay, about 20 percent of hospital beds and 16 percent of ICU beds were available. Tampa General Hospital and regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County had only a handful of ICU beds available as of Thursday morning.
Positivity: Florida’s average weekly positivity rate is about 11 percent, according to Johns Hopkins University. It increased after Christmas holiday closures, which led to a dip in testing.
When positivity is too high, it indicates there isn’t enough widespread testing to capture and stop the spread of mild and asymptomatic cases. The World Health Organization set a recommendation for a 5 percent positivity rate or below before loosening movement restrictions. Only five states and the District of Columbia meet that recommendation, according to the university.
Local numbers: Tampa Bay added 3,150 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths Thursday.
Manatee County reported 11 deaths, Polk had seven, Citrus had five, Pinellas had four, Hillsborough and Hernando counties had three each and Pasco reported one.
Polk County leads the area with an average weekly positivity rate of 16 percent, followed by Hillsborough at 14 percent, Citrus, Hernando and Pasco at 13 percent and Manatee and Pinellas at 10 percent. Positivity rates increased as testing dropped due to Christmas closures.
Levine urged people to behave responsibly, especially over the New Year’s holiday. She said it’s likely Florida will see a continued high rate of disease in the coming weeks because of holiday season.
“It’s not the time to assume we can just drop our guard,” Levine said. “Our guard needs to be up and it needs to be even higher up than before.”
As of the latest count, Hillsborough has 77,118 cases and 1,078 deaths; Pinellas has 44,975 cases and 1,056 deaths; Polk has 37,403 cases and 795 deaths; Manatee has 22,332 cases and 438 deaths; Pasco has 21,932 cases and 379 deaths; Hernando has 7,336 cases and 280 deaths; and Citrus has 6,663 cases and 268 deaths.
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Florida coronavirus cases by age group
Doctors say older people are at a greater risk to developing severe symptoms from COVID-19, which makes Florida especially vulnerable.
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