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The worsening COVID picture in Florida | Editorial
No obvious end in sight to the downward slide
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Aug. 18

The pandemic has reached another crisis stage. The number of new infections in Florida continues its record-breaking spike, with an average last week of more than 21,600 per day, the third consecutive weekly record. Deaths also spiked recently, and Florida had 15,441 COVID-19 patients in the hospital Friday, the highest level of hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.

As bad as the individual numbers are, though, they cannot be viewed in isolation. The more infectious delta variant has heightened the threat, prompting some employers and retailers to reimpose masking policies to stem the viral spread. Florida’s positivity rate rose again last week, to about 20 percent. Rates increased for the sixth straight week in the Tampa Bay area, and all seven bay area counties posted rates higher than the state average, showing the particular threat of COVID on Florida’s central gulf coast.

The Hillsborough County School Board will meet in special session today to consider tightening the district’s masking policy, which currently allows families to opt-out. The board should make public health its chief concern even in the face of political pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis and anti-mask Republicans in Tallahassee. The School Board is reacting to a surge of infectious spread and its top priority must be to make in-classroom instruction safe. As of Monday, Hillsborough’s case count (731) was nearly 20 times higher than it was after the first week of fall classes in 2020. And the number of Hillsborough students and school employees in either isolation or quarantine (5,915) jumped 25 percent in just three days.

These charts offer a snapshot of the burgeoning crisis in Florida, where most masking and social distancing requirements are a thing of the past. They reflect the battering COVID is wreaking on Florida’s health care system, where half the ICU beds in the state are taken up by COVID patients, a rate second only to Mississippi. And they show how lagging vaccinations are contributing to the pandemic’s rise. With the U.S. poised to recommend a booster shot, it’s critical to get holdouts their first jabs as quickly as possible, clearing the way to fully vaccinate more Americans in the coming months.

Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]
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Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]
Tampa Bay Times
Tampa Bay Times [ TBT ]

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.