Florida’s pandemic respite seems to be over. COVID-19 infections are rising again across the state, and a new variant may be responsible.
The state recorded nearly 3,000 cases a day on average over the past seven-day period from April 15 to Friday. That’s nearly double the 1,600 average daily cases from two weeks earlier, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Florida’s positivity rose to nearly 8 percent on April 18, the CDC reported. This is the highest level seen in Florida since February – up from 4.2 percent just two weeks ago.
Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization suggested that communities could only resume normal activities after watching 2 consecutive weeks with positivity rates below 5 percent.
The state reported 133 deaths in the past week, down from the 155 deaths reported the week before.
Florida has recorded a total of 5.9 million infections and 73,822 deaths, while the COVID-19 pandemic spans two years and two months.
The true number of infections in recent weeks is likely to be much higher due to two important factors. Home tests are now widely available, but these results are not reported to government health officials, so they are not counted when tabulating caseloads.
This means that Florida cases only include positive test results from clinical settings such as state-run test sites, health facilities, and pharmacies. But in the last two weeks, Florida reported the fewest clinical trial results since June 2020.
Some Floridians may not be able to access tests due to limited public testing facilities, which may also result in an undercount of cases.
The increase in cases coincides with the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant called BA.2.12.1. The new variant is part of the omicron BA.2 family and now accounts for almost every fifth new infection in the Southeast, according to the CDC.
New York State health officials estimate that the new variant is about 23 to 27 percent more transmissible than BA.2 and may be behind the latest bump in cases in this state.
Florida Department of Health spokesman Jeremy Redfern would not comment on whether the new variant was a concern, but said the department “monitors COVID-19 and performs genomic sequencing to detect variants as part of our overall monitoring effort.”
Across the state, admissions are also creeping up again, but not at the same rate as the cases.
Florida hospitals on Friday reported 746 confirmed COVID-19 patients, an increase of nearly 16 percent over the past two weeks. Admissions tend to lag after infections by 2-3 weeks.
Admissions from COVID-19 infections remain well below the highest number seen by hospitals in the Tampa Bay region during the omicron rise in November and December.
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BayCare officials reported that they treated 122 infected patients across their 15 hospitals in the Tampa Bay region as of Friday. That’s an increase from 99 a month ago.
Officials at the AdventHealth West Florida Division said they are caring for 30 COVID-19 patients among 13 hospitals between Ocala and Lake Placid, about the same number as a month earlier.
Tampa General Hospital treated 17 patients for COVID-19 as of Friday, with three of them on intensive care.
Getting vaccinated and boosted is still the best way to prevent serious illness, according to CDC guidelines. But vaccine efficacy declines over time, and up to 60 percent of fully vaccinated Floridians are delayed to a booster, according to CDC data.
In a statement issued last week, New York State Commissioner Mary T. Bassett urged New Yorkers to continue masking in indoor areas and to test for a potential exposure to the virus.
“While these sub-variants are new,” Bassett said in the statement, “the tools to combat them are not.”