Two weeks into the new year with COVID-19 cases still rising across the State of Florida thanks to the spread of the extremely infectious omicron variant, Alachua County raced past the 50,000 mark of all-time pandemic cases.
At the same time, the local government reinstated its vaccine incentive program and is once again handing out gift cards to people getting the jab in an effort to boost innoculation around the community.
Here's a look at the latest data on the pandemic for the two areas:
According to Friday's COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report from the Florida Department of Health, Alachua County had 6,524 new COVID-19 cases between Jan. 7-13 — almost 3,000 more than the previous week's 3,789.
They brought the county's cumulative case total to 53,586.
Meanwhile, Alachua County's new case positivity rate also rose from 27.7% to 28.9%, according to the report.
FDOH does not publicly report COVID-19 deaths by county. However, a federal document called the COVID-19 Community Profile Report published Wednesday showed that Alachua County had 539 cumulative COVID-19 deaths.
Pandemic takes toll on area hospitals: More COVID-19 patients head to Gainesville hospitals as health care workers also get sick
School staff out sick: COVID-19 surge in Alachua County Public Schools leads to staff shortages
COVID-19 and politics: Coronavirus bills proposed for impending Florida Legislative session enrage local officials
The county COVID-19 dashboard showed hospitalizations were still on the rise this week. Friday's tally hit levels similar to mid-September, counting 243 COVID-19-positive adult inpatients in three local hospitals, including 53 in intensive care and 13 on ventilators.
The dashboard separately listed 13 pediatric COVID-19 patients for Friday and displayed that the majority of all inpatients hospitalized with coronavirus were unvaccinated.
The Alachua County Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, updated Friday, showed a surge in student and staff cases so far in January.
In the past 10 days, 997 students and 197 staff COVID-19 cases were reported —almost 37% and 43% of the district's total 2021-22 school year cases, respectively. The dashboard also tallied 1,556 quarantined students on Thursday, accounting for over 5% of the student population.
Buchholz High School, with 87, and Gainesville High School, with 81, have had the highest number of student COVID-19 cases over the past 10 days, according to the dashboard. Rawlings Elementary had the most staff cases in that time period, with 14.
Here’s a breakdown of new cases in surrounding counties as listed in the FDOH report:
Bradford: +391 (6,049 total)
Columbia: +1,174 (17,144 total)
Dixie: +181 (3,275 total)
Gilchrist: +201 (3,542 total)
Lafayette: +85 (2,361 total)
Levy: +630 (8,179 total)
Marion: +5,536 (68,316 total)
Putnam: +1,061 (14,555 total)
Suwannee: +631 (10,479 total)
Union: +271 (3,536 total)
Alachua County now has a total of 177,420 people vaccinated, accounting for about 69% of the vaccine-eligible population — those ages 5 and older — and 65% of the whole population, according to the FDOH report.
On Wednesday, the county resumed its COVID-19 vaccine incentive program from August, announcing it would once again give $25 gift cards to people getting initial shots or the booster at select locations until Feb. 28.
"We are so grateful for the thousands of people that have let go of their vaccine hesitancy and joined in the effort to keep our community safe," said county spokesman Mark Sexton. "This incentive is just one more tool to encourage vaccinations."
The full list of participating vaccine providers can be found online at the county website's news page.
Also this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Biden administration's vaccine mandate for health care workers could move forward, prompting Gainesville hospitals to review their staff policies.
Read more about the decision and its implications here:
According to FDOH data sampling COVID-19 variants of concern that was received from a public records request placed by lawyers for Gannett, the company that owns The Sun, Florida had at least 1,758 omicron variant cases confirmed as of Jan. 7. Another 37,616 were attributed to the delta B.1.617.2 lineage.
A little over 2% of the delta cases were hospitalized, while less than 1% of the omicron cases were, according to the data.
An analysis of the FDOH data done by The Sun shows that for Alachua County in December, there were 19 delta variant and 18 omicron variant cases.
The majority of the omicron cases were found in young residents, with high school- and college-age people 15-24 years old making up a third of the cases and others ages 25-34 adding another 7 cases.
Though the delta variant was the dominant strain circulating in the U.S. during the fall of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Nowcast model for the week of Jan. 8 lists the omicron variant as over 99% of circulation in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 4, which includes Florida.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida jumped once again as 430,297 cases were reported for the past seven days, according to FDOH's Friday report. The previous week had just under 400,000.
In the same time period, the number of people getting the COVID-19 vaccine increased for the first time in weeks from 79,151 to 86,383. About 72% of Florida's eligible population and 68% of its total population have now been vaccinated.
Throughout the state, the report showed, Floridians ages 65 and older made up the most vaccinated age group, at 91%, while Floridians ages 5-11 made up one of the least vaccinated groups at 18%.
The state also added 470 more COVID-19 deaths to its cumulative total for 63,158 throughout the pandemic.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Alachua County passes 50,000 COVID-19 cases as omicron surge continues