Florida COVID deaths rise as delta spreads; infections hit 21,600 a day

The state reports 1,071 people died of COVID-19 over a seven-day period. Infections, hospitalizations keep building.
Nurse Alix Zacharski, right, sanitizes her hands as other doctors and nurses continue to care for a patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23.
Nurse Alix Zacharski, right, sanitizes her hands as other doctors and nurses continue to care for a patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital on July 23. [ JOSE A. IGLESIAS | el Nuevo Herald ]
Published Aug. 13, 2021|Updated Aug. 19, 2021

Florida continues to see record COVID-19 infections across the state. Now, deaths are rising too.

The state reported 151,415 infections from Aug. 6-12, according to the state Department of Health. That’s an average of more than 21,600 cases a day. It’s the third week in a row that the Sunshine State set a record for weekly cases. Only Louisiana saw more infections per capita.

Florida also reported 1,071 deaths, a 74 percent increase from the previous week. Two children are among the dead.

More than 500,000 Floridians have been infected since June 19, when cases began climbing again. The more contagious delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the nation, rewriting the old rules of staying safe as it powers the fourth — and worst — wave of the 17-month pandemic.

Related: ‘No one should die.’ Tampa Bay doctors, nurses exhausted by COVID surge

The burden on Florida hospitals continues to grow with an average of 2,222 new COVID-19 patients admitted every day over the past week, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. As of Friday, there were 15,441 confirmed COVID-19 patients being cared for in state hospitals.

The Sunshine State accounts for more than one out of every six infections and one out of every five hospitalizations in the U.S. this past week.

The fatality rate, measured by the number of deaths per infection, remains below previous waves last summer and winter because younger people are getting infected this time around. But University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi fears death rates are beginning to rise.

Deaths tend to lag infections for two reasons, Salemi said. First, an infected person may be in the hospital for weeks before they succumb to their illness. Then it can take two or more weeks before the death is recorded by the state. Soon, Florida may see more fatalities from the mid-June spike, one that has yet to peak.

“You knew it was just a matter of time that you were going to see the increase in deaths,” he said. “The question just becomes, how high will it go?”

Children’s COVID also rising

The delta variant surge had a new complication this week: the reopening of schools across most of Florida.

Nearly 24,000 children under 16 were diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past week. That’s up 20 percent from the week before, and more than double the number of cases during the week of July 16-22.

More children were also admitted to Florida hospitals this week with confirmed coronavirus cases than at any point during the pandemic. An average of nearly 62 pediatric cases were admitted each day from Aug. 7-13, according to DHHS data. Almost 200 minors were under hospital care by the week’s end.

Related: Got questions about kids, school and delta variant? Here are some answers.

Pediatric admissions remain well below the adult admission rate but have increased by over 300 percent in the past four weeks.

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Two kids under 16 recently died of the coronavirus, according to the state’s weekly report. A total of 10 children under 16 have died of the coronavirus in Florida, according to state data.

A 16-year-old who was not vaccinated died of the virus on Thursday at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, according to the Florida Times-Union. This month a child under the age of 5 died of COVID-19 at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare hospital, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

Concern about rising cases among children led more than 800 Florida physicians to sign an open letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis calling for a repeal of the state’s ban on school districts and municipalities issuing mask mandates. Some districts have challenged the ban, and Hillsborough County public schools requires students to wear masks unless their parents opt out of the policy.

Signatories to the letter include more than 100 Tampa doctors and almost 50 from St. Petersburg.

Related: COVID clouds another first day of school in Tampa Bay

Vaccines are not yet authorized for children under 12. That means roughly 120,000 Tampa Bay area children in kindergarten through the fifth grade are attending school without the protection of immunization, according to the letter, which was organized by the Committee to Protect Health Care.

“His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: Mask use and vaccinations,” the letter states. “Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis’ anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children.”

Tampa Bay’s hospital situation

This week, Tampa General Hospital joined most other Tampa Bay health care facilities in placing a hold on non-emergency surgeries as it deals with an influx of infections. It has also converted some units within the hospital to deal with the surge.

As of Friday afternoon, the Tampa hospital was tending for more than 220 COVID patients, 83 of whom are in intensive care. Seventeen patients are on ventilators, all but one of whom are unvaccinated, the hospital reported.

“We anticipate these decisions will provide more hospital beds and staff to successfully treat all our patients regardless of their needs,” said Tampa General spokesman Phil Buck in an email.

Related: COVID surge leads BayCare to suspend elective surgeries at Pinellas, Pasco, Polk hospitals

HCA Healthcare has also suspended some non-emergency surgeries in its 15 hospitals that make up its West Florida Division.

Roughly 28 percent of all hospital beds and roughly half of those in its intensive care units are occupied by COVID patients, said Sebastian Strom, the division’s chief medical officer.

He said COVID cases are now putting a “significant burden” on their hospital system.

“Deferring someone’s surgery has serious impacts on those patients,” he said. “For that reason we would only make that decision after serious consideration.”

Executives from Orlando Health told DeSantis last week that they are optimistic the number of cases in Florida will soon plateau and fall off as surges of the delta variant did in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Strom said he’s seeing some evidence of the rate of increase slowing but it’s too early to tell if the same pattern will emerge here. That’s why “the most important message to the public is that the vaccination is critically important to prevent future COVID disease and hospitalizations.”

Related: Florida vaccinations climb during delta surge, but half the state is still unvaccinated

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

DELTA VARIANT: COVID-19 is resurgent and school is starting. Here’s what parents and kids need to know about the fourth coronavirus wave.

VACCINES Q&A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

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