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Florida COVID deaths remain high as number of new infections starts to drop

Children and adolescents account for more than one third of Florida’s new infections, weekly state report shows.
Florida added 129,240 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, the lowest weekly case rate in more than a month. but deaths remain high, new weekly state data shows.
Florida added 129,240 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, the lowest weekly case rate in more than a month. but deaths remain high, new weekly state data shows.
Published Sep. 3

The number of new infections may be waning, but Florida still reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths this past week.

The state added 129,240 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, the lowest weekly case rate in more than a month, in a state report released Friday.

But it also reported 2,345 new COVID-related deaths, the highest single-week death toll since the start of the pandemic.

Due to normal lags in how deaths are reported, more than 1,900 of these deaths occurred weeks earlier. New federal data shows that Florida’s daily death toll peaked at 244 on Aug. 15, well above the previous record of daily deaths set in August 2020.

New infections continue to be concentrated among children and adolescents under 20 years old, who represent more than one-third of new cases.

However, reports on hospital admissions this week provided some hope that the worst of the current infection wave is over. The Florida Hospital Association on Friday reported 14,279 COVID admissions in Florida hospitals, almost 10 percent fewer than one week ago.

Nearly one-quarter of hospitalized COVID patients are in intensive care units.

“While the total number of hospitalizations remains high and workforce challenges remain, it is encouraging that fewer hospitals are expecting critical staffing and oxygen shortages,” said Mary Mayhew, the association’s chief executive officer and president.

Related: Tampa Bay hospitals push COVID vaccine — but won’t mandate it for their workers

BayCare chief medical officer Dr. Nishant Anand said he’s seen signs that the surge is abating. Previous infection waves seemed to last about two months, he said. Models of the delta variant’s rise in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have suggested a similar pattern.

It’s still unclear why that occurs, Anand said. It may be the result of changed behavior, including more social distancing and wearing of masks.

“The optimistic side of me believes it comes in two-month cycles,” he said. “It does look encouraging that at least there is a timeframe around it.”

New cases remain concentrated among Florida’s youngest residents. Children and teenagers between 12 and 19 had the highest infection rate in the state, with nearly one out of every 100 residents in that age group infected in the past week.

“As we opened the school year, it was truly what I’d call the perfect storm,” said Dr. Christina Canody, head of pediatric services at BayCare Heath

Vaccines were not yet available when kids returned to school last year. But mask mandates were still in place, and the state had one-third the daily case rate it does now.

“This year, we were at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum,” said Canody, and pediatric cases have increased as a result.

Florida hospitals saw 452 pediatric admissions with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days. That’s more than five times the number of admissions from the same week last year.

Related: Twelve hours in a Florida COVID-19 ICU

As of Friday afternoon, 34 children infected with COVID were admitted at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital with 10 in intensive care, officials said.

“We have not seen a break in the tidal wave as yet,” said Dr. Joseph Perno, vice president of medical affairs.

Children under 12 are of particular concern, because no COVID vaccines are approved for their use. Approval could come as soon as November, Perno said.

“Many are in school systems that aren’t mandating masks; they’re in tight quarters,” he said. “Kids are facing different challenges than adults right now, and they’re paying the price.”

Medical workers at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater work to stabilize a COVID-19 patient.
Medical workers at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater work to stabilize a COVID-19 patient. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention on Friday released two studies showing that the delta variant has increased the risk of children being hospitalized from the coronavirus. It’s unclear if that is because the virus is more virulent or more transmissible.

One study also showed that the hospitalization rate among unvaccinated children aged 12 to 17 was 10 times higher than that for vaccinated children.

The current wave is also proving to be more lethal for children. The state reported its 13th pediatric death in a child under 16 years old this week. It’s the fifth week in a row with at least one child death.

Treating COVID-19 in pediatric patients can be complex and confusing, said Canody. Symptoms can range from coughing and wheezing to seizures and irregular heart rhythms. Even behavioral health changes might be tied to a COVID-19 infection.

“We call it the great masquerader right now,” she said. “A child that comes in that has a change in their baseline, we are investigating if COVID is part of that.”

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