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Florida sees 48 percent jump in weekly coronavirus infections as delta variant spreads

In the past two weeks the number of COVID-19 cases reported has nearly doubled.
Tampa nurse Diallana Nicolas prepares a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shot on May 18 at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s TGT vaccination site at 755 E Waters Ave. The site gave its last shot on May 25.
Tampa nurse Diallana Nicolas prepares a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shot on May 18 at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s TGT vaccination site at 755 E Waters Ave. The site gave its last shot on May 25. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 9
Updated Jul. 9

The coronavirus is quickly rising again in Florida.

There were 23,697 new COVID-19 infections in Florida over the past seven-day period from July 2 to July 8, according to the weekly report released Friday by the Florida Department of Health. That’s an average of nearly 3,400 cases a day.

It’s also a 48 percent rise in COVID-19 infections — or 7,719 more infections — from the previous seven-day period from June 25 to July 1.

It’s the second consecutive jump in weekly coronavirus cases reported in Florida. In the past two weeks the number of weekly COVID-19 cases have nearly doubled from just under 12,000 cases reported from June 18 to June 24.

Related: Florida had a shot at herd immunity. Now it’s slipping away.

Tampa Bay added 3,364 cases in the past week, a 38 percent increase in weekly cases from the previous week.

Hospitalization rates increased by 27 percent — or 500 more weekly admissions — in the past week according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida’s caseload had been trending down for 12 consecutive weeks, going back to April 19.

The current spike in cases is likely the result of lifting social distancing measures, the spread of the highly infectious delta variant and stagnating vaccination rates, said University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins.

It’s unlikely that Florida will see the kind of surge that it did in June 2020 or January, she said. Weekly cases are still below levels seen as recently as May 15 and hospitalizations are still below levels seen in the beginning of June.

But this isn’t the first spike in cases the state has seen after pandemic restrictions were relaxed.

“We ran into this last year with Memorial Day,” Prins said. “People want to get together. With cases going down at that point, people thought the pandemic was over. That’s always when we get in trouble.”

Related: How four Tampa Bay ZIP codes explain Florida’s vaccine divide

Data released earlier this week from the CDC indicate that delta variant accounted for 13.2 percent of new infections in Florida between May 22 and June 19. That’s nearly a 500 percent increase from the CDC’s previous estimate made just two weeks earlier. The CDC estimates the share of delta variant cases using data from the state, which uses genomic testing on an undisclosed sampling of COVID-19 cases to look for the variant.

The delta variant is now the dominant strain in the United States, accounting for 51.7 percent of new infections, according to a CDC estimate. Because not all new cases are tested for variants, it’s difficult to determine just how widespread the delta variant is in Florida.

“For those who are not vaccinated, if you’re on the fence, now is the time,” Prins said. “Go start the process because it does take time to get fully vaccinated.”

Current vaccines are still highly effective against the delta variant. “No matter what study you look at, the protection against severe disease leading to hospitalization is always well within the 90 (percent), regardless of the study, regardless of the country,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, told NPR on Thursday.

Related: How vaccinated is your Florida ZIP code? Check here.

But new research sheds light on just how infectious the strain can be. Researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China found that the delta variant grows about 1,000 times faster in the respiratory tracts of infected individuals, compared to the original strain of the virus. This accelerated growth means that the virus can spread about 225 percent faster among unvaccinated individuals.

So far 58 percent of Florida residents age 12 and up have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the state, a number that hasn’t budged since last week. Just over half of the Florida resident eligible to get vaccinated have done so.

“We don’t have to have this many cases of COVID,” Prins said, “it’s really disheartening.

“If you’re unvaccinated, this is a coming storm, it’s rolling in.”

Related: The coronavirus variants: What you need to know

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