Florida’s new daily COVID case count hit a high on Wednesday not seen since the post-holiday surge in January,
The large daily case count — 17,589 new cases — comes just as many residents had begun to shed their masks and resume a less restrictive lifestyle.
But signs of the coronavirus resurgence are everywhere: long lines at test sites, curtailed visitor hours at crowded hospitals, employers dealing with staff who are sick or in quarantine, a trickle of increased demand for the single-dose vaccine.
“I wish I could take everyone on a tour of our ICU and give them a glimpse of what’s going on with COVID patients,” said Maggie Hansen, director of nursing for Memorial Healthcare System. “It’s not a disease afflicting the elderly anymore. I wish I could show them what has happened and how the age group on ventilators has changed with Delta.”
Florida became one of the nation’s hotspots when the Delta variant became the dominant strain of COVID-19 while about a third of residents remain unvaccinated.
Health experts say this appears to be more than a small spike: Florida had hit a low point in daily new cases in 2021 on June 14 when only 904 were reported. But the state has seen a 1,780% increase in new cases in the last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show.
Florida hospital leaders say they are caught off guard by the speed at which they are seeing new admissions and the younger ages of patients.
At Memorial Healthcare’s five South Broward hospitals, patients are jamming emergency departments and triage tents have been erected again to diagnose and isolate COVID patients. The health system is up to 387 patients from less than 100 at the start of the month. Orlando Health and AdventHealth report they are deluged with about 1,000 COVID-19 patients, more than ever before, with no sign the current surge will stop any time soon.
Across the state, more than 7,000 people have been hospitalized with the virus in the last week alone and another 1,500 are suspected COVID hospital admissions, according to a White House report released July 26. Most hospitals have tightened visitation policies as cases and positivity rates rise in the state.
As hospitalizations rise, so does the daily COVID death count, which has been on an upward trajectory in July. On Wednesday, the seven-day average for COVID deaths in Florida was 54 people a day compared to half that number a month ago, the CDC data shows.
Across the state, COVID testing sites are experiencing levels of demand not seen since right after Christmas.
The line at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale formed hours before the gates opened at 8 a.m. Thursday as people flocked to the site to get tested for COVID-19.
By 10 a.m. more than 150 cars snaked around the park, creating a two-hour line in both the inner and outer loops.
“The traffic is indicative of the concerns people have with regard to the increase in positive cases,” said Mike Jachles, public information officer for the City of Fort Lauderdale. “If you are coming to get tested, plan ahead, pack a little patience, and have a full tank of gas.”
Vaccination sites report an uptick in traffic as well. At the CVS Minute Clinic in Davie, family nurse practitioner Elyse Roelans said interest in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has picked up in the last week and she has given out 20 shots compared with just a trickle weeks ago. Local doctors say they, too, are seeing slightly more requests for vaccines.
About 60% of Floridians 12 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Masks continue to be a topic of contention.
The CDC issued new guidance this week, recommending masks indoors even for vaccinated individuals in counties with high rates of transmission. Eight of the top 20 counties in the country for new cases in the last seven days are in Florida and include Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Broward County and several cities — Coral Springs, Weston and Boynton Beach — all have reimposed mask requirements, with Broward’s set to take effect Friday. Palm Beach County is expected to follow.
On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County began requiring masks to be worn by employees and visitors inside all county facilities — vaccinated or not. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also urged businesses to require facial coverings indoors, too.
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org