Florida COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike; a new subvariant emerges

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are surging in Florida, but there’s good news as the state endures another winter surge of the virus.

The number of new hospital admissions is far lower than what the state saw this time last year, when the omicron variant arrived, and in early 2021 before COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.

In the week ending January 4, Florida recorded 2,893 new hospitalizations for COVID-19, up 17% from the previous week’s number of hospitalizations.

Related: Will Tampa Bay See a Winter COVID Surge? Here’s what to know.

In contrast, during the first week of January 2022, the Sunshine State recorded 11,130 new virus hospitalizations, a 105% increase from the previous week.

It’s too soon, though, to declare victory over the pathogen, according to Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida.

While population-wide immunity built up from previous vaccinations and infections could cushion this season’s spike, it’s hard to predict what will happen next, Salemi said.

“I’d like to say, you know, ‘It’s going to be a lot of what we’re seeing now,'” less serious illness, “because of that unquoted wall of immunity,” Salemi said. “But there’s no guarantee.”

Related: Here’s how to stay safe as RSV, flu, COVID spread in Tampa Bay

The virus has been throwing curveballs again and again during the roughly three-year pandemic, mutating and causing waves of disease.

The latest breakthrough is XBB.1.5, the most transmissible subvariant to date, said Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 response technical lead at the World Health Organization, during a news bulletin this week.

“It has a growth edge,” he said. “We don’t have data on severity yet,” but there is no indication that the subvariant causes more severe disease.

As of this week, the subvariant — another omicron offshoot — was circulating rapidly in the Northeast, and Salemi said he expects it to become dominant in the rest of the United States soon.

The subvariant accounts for nearly 30 percent of recent infections in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Salemi doubts XBB.1.5 will trigger a record wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida like the delta variant did in summer 2021.

But “we’re going to see a lot of people getting infected,” he said, “because it’s just a very, very transmissible form of the virus.” The subvariant could peak in February, she said.

Related: Hospitalizations Signal Increased Risk of COVID-19 for U.S. Seniors

“We are all exhausted from the pandemic,” he added. “I think we’re also starting to get a little desensitized.”

He encouraged Tampa Bay residents to come together for outdoor activities and to stay home and get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19. He also urged people to wear a mask when indoors with high-risk groups.

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People aged 65 and over are particularly vulnerable to the virus. Only a quarter of Florida seniors received an upgraded booster shot from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, the fourth lowest rate of any state in the US behind only Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

An average of 292 Florida residents ages 70 and older were hospitalized with the virus each day during the week ending Jan. 4, up 42 percent from the average the previous week, officials said. federal health care.

Statewide, more than nine out of 10 virus deaths last month were among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Florida Department of Health has not yet issued any guidance on whether seniors should receive the upgraded booster.

The vaccine is widely available and “if people want it, they can get it,” said Department of Health spokesman James Williams III.

Related: 75% of Florida seniors were not boosted before the holidays

The federal government says the new injections provide additional protection against COVID-19 for those who have received two or more doses of an original vaccine.

Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties are at medium risk for the virus, federal health officials said this week. Just over 20% of Florida counties are high risk, including Miami-Dade County.

Florida recorded 23,241 cases during the week ending Jan. 4, a 10 percent decrease from the number of new cases the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people use home virus tests and do not report their results to health authorities.

The cases are “becoming completely decoupled from what the wastewater (surveillance) data says,” Salemi said. “We still report on them, but they’re becoming less and less informative.”

Locally, Hillsborough reported 1,245 infections during the week ending Jan. 4, a less than 1 percent increase over the number of new cases in the previous seven days, according to federal health officials.

Pinellas and Pasco recorded increases of 13% and 7% respectively. Pinellas has recorded 944 cases; Pasco identified 519 of them.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg was treating just four inpatient COVID-19 patients on Thursday, according to a spokesperson.

AdventHealth said Wednesday it was caring for just over 100 people with COVID-19 at facilities across the region.

“There has only been a slight increase of about 15 patients” since Dec. 28, a spokesperson wrote in an email.

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