Florida’s COVID deaths climb as children lead state in positivity rate

The state reports 1,486 deaths and 150,118 new coronavirus infections as the pandemic starts to affect young Floridians.
Overflow beds at Halifax Health ER in Daytona Beach sit at the ready for COVID-19 patients on Aug. 13.
Overflow beds at Halifax Health ER in Daytona Beach sit at the ready for COVID-19 patients on Aug. 13.
Published Aug. 20, 2021|Updated Aug. 21, 2021

Florida’s pandemic is getting deadlier and infecting more children.

The state reported 1,486 deaths, a 141 percent increase from two weeks ago. And it’s the most deaths since Feb. 10, as federal data shows Florida approaching the weekly death toll last seen this past winter.

One out of every four COVID-19 infections recorded by the state in the most recent seven-day period were 19 or younger.

Related: COVID is still a deadly threat to older Floridians

Younger Floridians are also testing positive at a higher rate than other age groups: Children 12 and under have a positivity rate of 23 percent and ages 12-19 have a positivity rate of 25 percent.

Florida officials reported 150,118 coronavirus infections from Aug.13-19. It is the first time in two months — since the delta variant-fueled wave started June 18 — that weekly cases have decreased. The age breakdown is 20,331 children ages 12 and under and 17,310 ages 12-19.

But the state is still averaging more than 21,400 cases a day, about 200 cases shy of last week’s daily average.

Related: Coronavirus in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

Meanwhile hospitalizations are still climbing. The state’s hospitals were treating 16,849 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Friday, just shy of the record 17,040 hospitalizations reported this past Wednesday.

In Florida, 34 percent of patients in hospital beds are being treated for COVID-19, the highest percent in the nation, according to federal data.

The state’s youngest residents are seeing an increase in infections and positivity rates as Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran battles with local school boards requiring students to wear masks, policies opposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Hillsborough County is one of those school boards after voting this week to impose a 30-day mask mandate for all students, teachers and staff. Children can only opt out with medical permission.

Related: Florida to Broward, Alachua school boards: reverse mask policy or lose pay

Of the 1,486 deaths recorded this week, 346 occurred in the past seven days. It can take two weeks or longer for a death to be accounted for, and as the state retroactively adds newly discovered fatalities, the peak of this wave is approaching levels not seen since February, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As infections appear to slow, vaccinations continue to climb. Florida administered 443,953 doses of vaccine this week, including 216,136 first-dose vaccinations. It’s the highest vaccination rate in the Sunshine State since early June.

The largest increase was among children ages 12 to 19, who accounted for 25 percent of the newly vaccinated.DeSantis’ office did not return a request for comment on the state’s COVID situation. The governor has been traveling around the state in recent weeks, touting the opening of monoclonal antibody sites to treat coronavirus patients. The treatment can help keep at-risk patients from being hospitalized.

He attended the opening of sites at the Bay County Fairgrounds in Panama City, the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach and the Old Bonita Springs Library on Friday.

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Pediatric hospitals brace for patients

Joseph Perno, chief medical officer and pediatric emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, described the situation at the hospital as “not good and unfortunately getting worse.”

Each week since July, he said the hospital has set a record for the number of COVID-infected children it’s treating.

And with the more infectious delta strain, it’s not just children with underlying health conditions that are ending up in the hospital, he said in an interview published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“A subset of those need to be hospitalized because they need oxygen support or whatever other supportive treatment and then a subset of those have needed ICU,” he said. “If you talk to many of us pediatricians in the state of Florida, it’s a little bit of doom gloom, and we’re scared.”

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

With schools now in session, the number of infected children may rise further, Perno said. Without a mask mandate for all schools, the hospital, already close to capacity, is “dreading” a further surge in child infections.

Masks are the simplest protection available for children at this point, he said, and that workers at his hospital are begging families to use them.

“I’m frustrated because it feels like it’s falling on deaf ears and I feel like the kids are being lost in this political battle,” he said.

Tampa Bay hospitals fill up

The surge continues to stress Tampa Bay hospitals.

More than 600 COVID-positive patients are currently hospitalized in AdventHealth’s 10 hospitals in its West Florida Division, the company said. On Friday, it announced a hold on elective surgeries at five more of its hospitals, including ones in Carrollwood, Dade City and Zephyrhills.

BayCare officials said the number of COVID patients at their Tampa Bay area hospitals is hovering at around 1,100.

Related: Got questions about COVID vaccine booster? Here’s some answers.

As of Friday afternoon, about 240 COVID patients were being treated at Tampa General Hospital, up by 20 from last week. Ninety patients were listed in intensive care.

Dr. Jason Wilson, the hospital’s associate medical director of the adult emergency department, said admissions have hovered at that “high” number for a few days but was reluctant to conclude that the number of infections has reached a plateau.

“I could not have imagined 240 when we were at 125,” he said. “These little blips and sudden increases just seem to happen.

“How long are we going to live at a 240 number hoping it doesn’t jump in a day to 300?”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

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BOOSTER: Officials say you’ll need another shot for protection.

VACCINES: The best way to stay safe from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Here’s a primer on the coronavirus vaccines.

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