Florida’s COVID-19 uptick this winter may have peaked without a crushing wave of hospitalizations.
Statewide, the number of new hospital admissions is dropping after an early January high and is far below what Florida recorded at this time last year when the omicron variant first hit.
“We definitely have (virus) activity, but of course nothing like some of the surges we’ve had in the past,” said Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University in Miami.
Here’s what to know about how COVID-19 is impacting the state.
How many are being hospitalized?
During the week that ended Feb. 1, the state reported 2,316 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, a 13% decrease compared to the number of admissions in the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
The share of adults with COVID-19 needing intensive care at hospitals — as of Thursday — remained lower than it was during last winter’s surge and the delta variant wave in summer 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Locally, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties are at medium risk for the virus, according to the federal government, but there are signs the recent spike is abating.
As of Tuesday, the 15-hospital BayCare Health System was treating 174 patients admitted with COVID-19, according to spokesperson Lisa Razler. A week prior, it had about 220.
At the end of January, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg was treating only two to three admitted patients with COVID-19 each day, spokesperson Roy Adams said in an email.
Why data on cases is limited
Infections also seem to be falling statewide, but Trepka said looking at official case counts “is not useful at all.” With public testing sites shuttered, many people use at-home tests and don’t report their results to health authorities.
Florida saw 21,062 cases during the week that ended Feb. 1 — a 4% decrease from the number of new cases the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, most people have been infected or vaccinated, Trepka said. That creates a wall of immunity.
Going forward, it’s “unlikely we’re going to see the extremely high surges ... unless there’s a major change in the virus, which is always a possibility,” she said.
Are people still dying from COVID-19?
Florida is averaging 63 COVID-19 deaths per day, according to federal data released last week. That’s lower than previous spikes, but similar to what the Sunshine State saw last summer during a rise in transmission.
Less than a third of Florida seniors have received an updated booster shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — the fourth-lowest rate of any state in the U.S.
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A study published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the updated shots, called bivalent boosters, were significantly more effective at protecting people against severe disease than the original boosters.
Trepka urged seniors and those with weakened immune systems to get an updated shot.
Vulnerable people should also consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor areas, Trepka said.
President Joe Biden plans to end the nation’s public health emergency in May, which will likely curtail access to COVID-19 testing and treatment for some Americans.
“It’s very likely that we’ll live with this virus like we live with influenza — every year, we see upticks and downturns,” Trepka said.