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Data shows Florida seniors getting vaccines, avoiding hospitals

Analysis: Improvement among hospital patient numbers has been greatest for oldest adults.
Walgreens Technician Christine Gibson administers the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Frutuoso Cervantes Pioquinto, 80, at Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center in Plant City on Friday, March 26, 2021. Colectivo ARBOL organized the event with Walgreens to make the vaccine accessible for Hispanic farm workers.
Walgreens Technician Christine Gibson administers the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Frutuoso Cervantes Pioquinto, 80, at Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center in Plant City on Friday, March 26, 2021. Colectivo ARBOL organized the event with Walgreens to make the vaccine accessible for Hispanic farm workers. [ IVY CEBALLO ]
Published Mar. 30
Updated Apr. 13

In Florida and across the nation, data on COVID-19 patients shows a widening gap, with greater improvements among the oldest seniors than among younger adults.

At the same time, coronavirus cases are spiking once again, driven by those younger adults. Hospitalizations are already ticking up once more in some states.

Since Florida’s winter wave peaked in early January, hospitals have admitted fewer COVID-19 patients every single week. During this span, the drop in Florida’s oldest patients has been steeper than for other age groups.

Compared to the first week of the year, the number of patients 80 and older admitted last week is down 82 percent. For patients 70-79, it’s down nearly as much, 79 percent. Both of those improvements outpace that for all ages, which has been 61 percent.

The data come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has released more detailed information than Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The success of Florida’s senior population in avoiding the hospital has come as the majority of those 65 and older have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, most younger adults are still waiting for eligibility or appointments.

In a striking shift that shows how much the pandemic is changing, Florida hospitals admitted more new patients last week (ending Thursday) who are in their 50s and 60s than they did those 70 or older — the first time that’s happened since federal officials began releasing the data last summer. The decline in hospitalizations among younger adults has stalled after dropping for nearly two months.

Though coronavirus deaths skew heavily by age, about 17 percent of those who died from the disease in Florida were younger than 65, more than 5,500 people.

The information isn’t perfect. The Department of Health and Human Services withholds small counts of patients at hospitals. Numbers can swing wildly as outbreaks come and go. Officials released data going back to only late July, missing the worst of Florida’s summer wave. And many factors, including luck, determine who is exposed to the deadly disease at all.

But with the huge gap in vaccination rates between adults of retirement age and everyone else, the trend in hospital data indicates the vaccines have already protected many seniors who would have otherwise gotten sick.

The trend isn’t unique to Florida. It also doesn’t mean the current rise in cases won’t lead to another overall spike in hospitalizations or deaths. In Michigan, the count of new patients 80 and older is down 80 percent compared to that state’s fall peak, outpacing the overall drop of less than 50 percent. Still, as cases have exploded, hospitalizations have doubled there since the beginning of March.

Florida’s cases are rising again. Positives are up 15 percent in the last two weeks. Experts warn of another impending national wave, pleading with individuals and state governments to take steps now to limit the spread.

Some of Florida’s sharpest spikes are in and around Daytona Beach, Punta Gorda and Sarasota, all of which have seen cases jump more than three times as fast as the state overall.

In some of the biggest counties in the state, younger adults are driving the spread, the Miami Herald reported.

Previously, big case spikes in younger adults came just before those in seniors.

Yet now, for the first time, many of Florida’s seniors would be protected.

Still, as of Tuesday, more than one in four Floridians 65 and older haven’t received a single shot.

This is an occasional series examining Florida’s coronavirus data.

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