TAMPA, Fl.-- — COVID-19 cases are rising across much of the country. More than a third of US counties are seeing high levels of community transmission, according to the CDC.
Three states, Florida, Texas, and Missouri, made up 40% of cases, according to the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
“We have definitely seen a significant uptick in the number of people affected by the virus. Our hospitalizations are increasing and certainly, we’re seeing many many more sick people in the hospital with COVID19,” said Dr. Peggy Duggan, the executive Vice President, and chief medical officer of Tampa General Hospital.
The Florida Department of Health reported 73,199 new cases the week prior, up from 45,604; and a new case positivity rate of 15.1 percent, up from 11.5 percent the week prior. That averages to more than 10,000 new cases a day.
While Florida makes up 6.5 percent of the US population, the state makes up around 22 percent of new COVID-19 cases the past week, according to Jason Salemi, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at USF’s College of Public Health.
However, Salemi said the indicators are of severe illness too. He closely tracks the federal hospitalization data. “We went from just over 3,600 confirmed COVID19 admissions two weeks ago to 5,548 this past week ending.”
“It’s a 52% increase in new covid admissions over the past week. So that’s just one weeks time. So this is now not just a story about increased number of cases it’s massively increased numbers to be honest,” Salemi said.
“For our staff I’ll say this has been a really hard, long year and now to be ramping up again it’s been very hard on them,” said Dr. Duggan. “To some degree people are frustrated because so many of these cases feel avoidable and the other thing that’s hard for our staff is they see younger and younger people with this disease.”
The Florida Department of Health said the past 30 days most cases are among those 20-49 years old and most hospitalizations are among those 40-69 years of age, recognizing a shift to a younger demographic.
"And generally healthier people, people who had no reason to think they’d get sick other than what was going on around them. And so those groups we’ve seen, our youngest patient is in their early 20’s we have a number of them. It’s definitely skewing much to the younger age group. So the average age in the hospital today with COVID was in the mid-40’s," said Dr. Duggan.
The vaccination rates in Florida drop with age and those age groups with lower rates have higher new case positivity rates, according to state data.
“The COVID-19 vaccines teach the human body how to recognize and fight the COVID-19 virus and protect against the risk of severe illness. While some vaccinated individuals may still contract COVID-19, they are much less likely to be at risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death,” the Florida Department of Health stated.
The agency said 6 percent of all Florida cases were among vaccinated individuals, but noted the vaccine was still the best way to protect against COVID-19.
“The other thing that’s really important for people who have had COVID and then don’t think they need to get vaccinated this is a whole new strain and we are definitely seeing people who’ve had covid in the past get the delta variant. Getting the vaccine is really the only way to minimize your risk from this,” Dr. Duggan said.
Most of the cases sequenced at the hospital are the Delta variant, she said, and that about 80 to 85 percent of their inpatients who have COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
“That’s why we’ve really been talking to about going out in the community for people to be really cautious out in the community because it’s just so contagious. One of the hallmarks of this variant has been that whole families get COVID once one person gets it and that’s not really what we saw in the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Duggan said.
Dr. Duggan said one of their focuses is on treating early.
“Again because of our treatments we’re also having a high throughput right so we’re seeing new patients every day, getting a fair number back into their homes but we’re gonna see there’s gonna be a rising number over the next week to two weeks and that’s gonna be a real challenge for us,” Dr. Duggan said.
For kids not yet eligible for vaccination, Duggan recommends considering masks and said vaccinations of those eligible can help protect kids.
“Us vaccinated part of the population we have risks now if you contract COVID of the delta variant we can spread it so we really have to follow those other public health safety measures that we had started moving away from before this came along,” Duggan said.
State data shows 60% of eligible Floridians have received a vaccine. Federal data shows Florida is behind the national percentages for those who have received one dose or are fully vaccinated.
"Generally healthier people, people who had no reason to think they’d get sick other than what was going on around them. And so those groups we’ve seen our youngest patient is in their early 20’s we have a number of them. It’s definitely skewing much to the younger age group. So the average age in the hospital today with COVID was in the mid-40’s"-Dr. Duggan