Community spread of COVID drops in South Florida, even as vaccine hesitancy sets in

·3 min read

With nearly 6.5 million people vaccinated in South Florida, the new COVID case positivity rate has dropped below 3% in all three counties, a sign that vaccines are effective and the level of community spread is dropping.

As health officials employ creative strategies to get more people vaccinated, inoculations have slowed in all of Florida. In South Florida, only 85,618 doses were given out the week ending June 10 compared with 87,717 during the prior week.

In Palm Beach County, mobile vans are going to bars, college campuses and businesses to persuade holdouts — particularly young people — that they are critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.

Younger people, specifically those ages 18 to 34, have been hesitant to get the vaccine despite currently producing the most COVID-19 cases.

Those are people who are “sitting on the fence or who are not quite motivated to do it yet,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County.

Public health officials say stagnant vaccination rates could make masks a permanent fashion accessory and require a desperate scramble for a vaccine booster should cases rise again. The potential for an aggressive and more deadly variant to reverse progress in the state also is entirely possible.

Statewide, more than 10.4 million residents, or 55% of people ages 12 and up, have received at least one vaccination shot, including 8.6 million or 45%, who have completed their shot regimens. The count is a snapshot through June 10.

As the vaccine rollout continues slowly, the number of new cases in South Florida crept up slightly in the last week — 4,139 new cases compared with 3,908 the previous week.

Statewide, Florida reported 12,157 new cases for the week ending June 10, compared with 11,801 new cases the prior week. The total number of cases in Florida since the start of the pandemic is 2,300,786.

Early in the pandemic, long-term care facilities were hit hard by COVID. Seniors made up a majority of the state’s hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.

Now, with 4.5 million Floridians 65 and older vaccinated, the state reported only 148 residents had COVID as of June 7. However, the state has struggled to raise the vaccination rate of staff, which has hovered around 30%. As of June 7, 390 staff members in more than 3,900 facilities were positive for COVID.

In South Florida hospitals, COVID wards are emptying out.

At the height of Florida’s summer COVID-19 surge, there were more than 4,100 people hospitalized with the novel illness in the tri-county area. The state no longer is making county COVID hospitalizations publicly available.

However, by comparison, only 1,820 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 for the seven-day period ending June 8, according to the latest White House report. That represents a significant drop from the 2,090 patients who were hospitalized from COVID the previous week.

Meanwhile, people continue to die from the disease in Florida. On Friday, Florida reported another 280 deaths, bringing the total number of people who died from COVID in Florida to 37,265. The Department of Health said it now is publicly reporting only cases and deaths of Florida residents.

In COVID news this week, two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium cruise, the first fully vaccinated cruise in North America, have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, a federal judge grilled the CDC about its cruise safety rules. Florida has requested the court invalidate the CDC’s rules for cruises to get the industry restarted again in the state. The hearing ended with the two parties returning to court-ordered mediation.

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.