South Florida: New COVID cases on the rise, but vaccines appear to be working

Adelaide Chen, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

As Spring Breakers have poured into South Florida, new COVID-19 cases have been on the rise.

South Florida is in the top 10% of metropolitan areas in the country for the number of new infections, ranking 28 out of 392, according to a new White House report.

After what appeared to be a decline in new cases in early March, the state’s three populous counties reported a significant jump in just a week — an increase of 5.7% in new cases compared with the seven-day period a week earlier.

The White House report says the community transmission level in the area over the last seven days has been high, which puts it in the red zone. The increases appear to be driven by rising cases in people ages 15 to 34.

But in a positive trend, statewide mass vaccination efforts focused on older people appear to be having an effect. In the last week, new cases in people older than 65 declined 7%, according to Florida health department data.

Dr. Warren Sturman, a Broward Health doctor who leads volunteer efforts at vaccination sites, believes vaccines have shielded the older age group from virus transmission in the community — even as young, maskless Spring Breakers have jammed restaurants and hotels.

“The vast majority of seniors who wanted a shot have gotten one at this point and it’s already making a difference,” Sturman said.

As of March 27, almost three-quarters of Floridians 65 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine and about half are fully vaccinated, Florida’s vaccination report shows.

The new White House report shows the metropolitan area of Miami-Dade and Broward once again led the state in new cases. However, the entire state saw an increase in the daily case average over the past week. The seven-day average stood at 4,465 new cases per day on March 20, with that weeklong average bumping up to 4,957 from then through Saturday. The rise comes even as COVID testing has dropped significantly in the state, from an average of 32,500 tests a day in February to 25,500 in March.

Florida now ranks 13th in the country for new COVID cases per 100,000.

Although hospitalizations for severe COVID case levels had come down from a high mid-January peak, new admissions are occurring. In the last week, as many as 1,600 people were admitted to the hospitals in Miami/Fort Lauderdale for COVID or suspected COVID. About 15% of ICU beds are occupied by COVID patients, the new White House report shows. Further north, Tampa/St. Petersburg had 905 new admissions; nine percent of its ICU beds are filled with COVID patients.

Earlier this week, the Sun Sentinel interviewed about three dozen young adults and found many of them do not plan to get the vaccine. It’s unclear how that will affect case numbers. Meanwhile, vaccines continue to roll out in Florida, with adults 50 and older now eligible. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that all adults will be eligible for a COVID vaccine on April 5.