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Florida’s COVID numbers are headed the wrong way | Editorial
Nearly 20 percent of new infections and hospitalizations
RN Corey Price prepares a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for administration on  April 13 at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s vaccination site in Tampa. Florida leads the nation in the number of new coronavirus infections, accounting for nearly one in five nationwide.
RN Corey Price prepares a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for administration on April 13 at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s vaccination site in Tampa. Florida leads the nation in the number of new coronavirus infections, accounting for nearly one in five nationwide. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jul. 20

The pandemic has entered a troubling new stage, as lagging vaccination rates in states like Florida give rise to a surge of infections. Florida needs to be more proactive about engaging vaccine holdouts, and hesitant Floridians need to reach out to whomever they trust — their doctor, family or friends. While the risks largely fall to the unvaccinated, that still is a huge population, and winnowing that number is essential to getting the pandemic under control.

Florida leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases, with nearly 1 in 5 of the new infections across the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Florida Department of Health reported 45,604 new COVID-19 infections over the seven-day period between July 9 and July 15. The number of new cases in Florida has nearly doubled in the past seven days, and the week-to-week growth rate is the highest the state has seen since the first wave of COVID-19 infections in June 2020. Florida also led the country in hospitalizations, with 3,652 confirmed COVID-19 admissions from July 7 to July 14, according to CDC data. That’s also about 1 in 5 of all 19,520 admissions nationwide.

The state has not seen this level of infection since April, when Florida’s third wave peaked at 5,756 cases per day. Since that surge, cases in Florida had been generally falling until case counts picked back up three weeks ago. The reasons are simple: Florida has opened back up, masks and distancing requirements are largely optional and people — many of them unvaccinated — are getting out in large crowds again. The highly-contagious delta variant has seized this opportunity, accounting for an estimated 58 percent of new cases nationally. And Florida’s vaccination rate continues to lag, with only about 54 percent of eligible Floridians fully vaccinated, putting Florida in the middle of the pack among states nationwide. Add the summer tourist season and a recent doubling of the rate at which people are testing positive for COVID and Florida has all the makings for the crisis to worsen.

It would be good to see Gov. Ron DeSantis treat this situation with the urgency it deserves. The Republican governor could be an effective advocate for vaccinations among conservative holdouts. Rather than spend his time focusing on the Mexican border or the street protests in Cuba, DeSantis should be barn-storming Florida to get the vaccination effort in higher gear. State health authorities also need to use their voices to counter the disinformation on social media and elsewhere that is undermining the vaccination campaign.

As it has throughout the pandemic, personal responsibility is again key to controlling infections. The vaccines are safe, easy to access and free, and holdouts have an even greater self-interest, with the delta variant on the loose, in getting inoculated. The state noted that vaccinated people made up less than 6 percent of the coronavirus cases diagnosed in the past month. Tampa General Hospital currently has 40 COVID-19 patients, more than double from two weeks ago, and every patient who is on a ventilator is unvaccinated.

The last thing the nation needs after more than a year of lockdowns and closures is another viral wave, more uncertainty and prolonged disruption to society and the economy. With a new school year around the corner, there’s no better time for Florida to ramp up the vaccination campaign and to address the lingering concerns of the people who remain on the fence.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.