Epidemiologists warn omicron could overwhelm Florida hospitals, urge mitigation

COVID-19 cases surge more than 1,000% in South Florida counties
Hospital bed
Posted at 9:48 AM, Dec 28, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The latest COVID-19 variant, omicron, again risks overwhelming Florida's hospitals as a new case surge begins.

Epidemiologists offered that warning Monday as another holiday weekend approached with testing sites full and positive results skyrocketing.

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University of South Florida Epidemiologist Jason Salemi reported that omicron was already outpacing the delta variant, which took more than a month to average 21,000 daily cases.

"For omicron, that's happened in 12 days," Salemi said. "Less than two weeks."

South Florida, he said, was seeing the worst of the surge. COVID-19 hit several counties there with an over 1,000% case increase over 14 days.

  • Palm Beach County: 1,167%
  • Broward County: 1,437%
  • Miami-Dade County: 1,790%

His message ahead of New Year's was a familiar one; vaccinate, social distance, mask and test.

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"Don't test two days before you're getting ready to head out," Salemi said. "It's almost to the point where it's right before you walk out the door because you're finding people who are testing at night, and they're negative. Then the next morning they're positive."

Early data suggests omicron is less severe, especially for vaccinated, but likely more transmissible. That is a concern as many hospitals have exhausted employees and are in the middle of one of the worst staff shortages in decades.

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Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association, points out that COVID-19 hospitalizations remain well below delta's summer peak— but admissions are rising. For now, she said, providers are keeping up while preparing for the worst.

"Hospitals are evaluating their staffing models," Mayhew said. "They are assessing any contracts that they may need for additional staffing, and they are analyzing all of their physical plant space to be ready."

As they prepare, state officials keep highlighting monoclonal therapies. Florida has more than 20 treatment sites open across the state.

The governor has also continued to resist public and private shot rules or lockdowns — which he said would hurt jobs, liberties and the economy.