COVID-19 trends: The latest on omicron and hospitalizations in Florida

Posted at 3:28 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 23:18:21-05

TAMPA BAY, Fla — In the past 7 days, Florida has seen more than 206,000 new COVID-19 cases. Thursday, the state hit nearly 58,000 cases in one day alone, and health experts say those numbers are tremendously higher than when delta hit its peak in August 2021.

“Just for some context, the delta peak was 21,641. So we’re nearly 8,000 more a day than at our delta peak in terms of cases,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at USF College of Public Health.

But when it comes to hospitalizations, while the numbers are up, they aren’t like what we saw in the summer of 2021.

Two weeks ago, we were at 1,200 adults hospitalized for COVID-19, now the state is at more than 4,433. But for context, once again, in August when delta was at its peak, we had nearly 17,000 people hospitalized for COVID. That's nearly five times higher than versus now. It may be an indication omicron isn't as severe. But Dr. Salemi thinks it could be because we're better at fighting it.

“By this point in the pandemic, a lot of people have either been vaccinated, boosted or have had prior infections so if a large percentage of new cases are people who have had some built up immunity it can make it seem as though omicron is less severe but yet it might just be because our immune systems are well adapted to be able to fight against it,” he said.

But because of its high transmissibility, even if it is less severe we could still see a high number of hospitalizations. Dr. Salemi points out some of these cases could be “incidental positives.”

“People go to the hospital for other reasons, but once they are tested, they test positive for COVID,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult to wade through all of this data and really get a good handle on how many people are landing in the hospital or the intensive care unit because of this omicron or the existing delta variant.”

It’s why he thinks hospitals should make their reporting more granular so we have a better idea of what’s really happening. He says the best thing we can do right now to protect ourselves and others is get vaccinated and boosted.

“Being exposed to a virus and getting infected prior, it’s much more likely to ramp up your immune system and offer you some sort of protection but that protection is very variable,” he said. “But I can tell you, my takeaway message to people is even if you’ve had prior infection, the best thing you can do is to get vaccinated and also implement all of those mitigation strategies.”

And while adults still outpace kids when it comes to hospitalizations, the number of kids admitted to the hospital with COVID has grown.

Two weeks ago there were just 24 kids statewide in the hospital with COVID-19. Now, that number is about 90 kids which is a 275% increase. Compared to Delta’s peak, the numbers are still low.

“My take-home is you need to have a balance just like everything else, so if they’re going back into the school setting it’s making sure that we put all of the mitigation strategies in place,” said Dr. Salemi. “That includes mask-wearing, social distancing, ventilation infiltration of the air in the indoor environments. The use of antigen testing and making sure the kids aren’t positive and not going to school when you have any sore symptoms.”

Dr. Salemi says it’s great to see the City of Tampa open up additional testing sites. He says it will encourage more people to get tested. If wait times in lines are too long, he says it may discourage people from doing the right thing.

Dr. Doug Ross, AdventHealth Tampa Chief Medical Officer, said people with symptoms should go to a testing site or the urgent care, but avoid the emergency room.

"If you have mild symptoms and you're concerned about COVID which you should be, testing sites are the best place to go, not the emergency rooms," said Dr. Ross.

Dr. Ross warns against large gatherings for New Year's Eve. He also encourages people to get vaccinated and practice social distancing.

"The patients who are being admitted are once again not vaccinated or not boosted so getting a booster is clearly a very important part of getting a milder care of this omicron or even of delta," said Dr. Ross.