Weeks into Florida's omicron wave, surge of COVID-19 deaths begins

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Callahan Funeral Home director Ellis McAninich moves a casket for display to a room in the home in this Aug 21, 2021 photo in Callahan, Fla. McAninich has overseen funerals for five people who died from the virus since July he himself has recovered from a bout with the virus and now plans to get vaccinated. JOHN RAOUX/Associated Press
Callahan Funeral Home director Ellis McAninich moves a casket for display to a room in the home in this Aug 21, 2021 photo in Callahan, Fla. McAninich has overseen funerals for five people who died from the virus since July he himself has recovered from a bout with the virus and now plans to get vaccinated. JOHN RAOUX/Associated Press

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Florida on Friday reported its biggest COVID-19 death spike since the Thanksgiving holiday.

Florida logged 470 more viral fatalities among residents statewide in the past week, health officials reported Friday, the biggest seven-day increase since Nov. 26 Deaths can take weeks to be processed and make their way into state statistics.

The state's death toll stands at 63,158 residents. Florida's Health Department in June stopped publishing the number of nonresidents who died after testing positive here. Tourist season is in full swing.

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The deadly escalation comes as the state Health Department reported a record 429,311 new infections in the past week.

A total of 4,992,265 cases have been documented in Florida since the official start of the pandemic here in March 2020.

1 million infections since Christmas Eve

More than 1 million of those infections came after Dec. 24.

About 29.3% of new tests have come back positive, a slight decrease from 31.2% reported Jan. 7.

The latest wave of infections, driven by the omicron variant, may have peaked in some parts of the state.

Palm Beach County logged 26,866 new infections in the past week while 29.7% of new test results came back positive for COVID-19. Those figures are lower than what state health officials reported Jan. 7.

Detailed testing data released Friday by the state Health Department to lawyers representing a consortium of news outlets reveal how fast the omicron mutation became the dominant strain of the virus in Florida.

Omicron is 73% of variants in January so far

The omicron variant comprised 73% of COVID-19 variants identified this month in the sample, up from 9% in December.

To justify purchasing treatments that have been shown to be effective against the virus' delta strain, but not the omicron variant, Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the delta mutation is still sending people to the hospital. That variant comprised the remaining 27% of January test results.

The state data contains a total of 9,950 test results from December and January where variants were identified.

Florida health officials have been irregularly releasing the variants data to media since late spring 2021 because news outlets have retained lawyers to negotiate for it.

Most of those who tested positive for the extremely infectious omicron variant were on the younger side. People ages 34 and below comprise 56% of cases.

Just 55% of people younger than 40 have received at least one shot of the free, effective vaccine, calculations based on the state's Friday report shows.

About 72% of Floridians have been vaccinated, covering 15,067,643 people.

The number of residents getting their first shots is slowly rising. Health officials logged 42,506 new injections in the past week, more than twice as much as four weeks ago.

A total of 4,632,038 booster shots have been administered. These additional shots offer the highest level of immunization against the omicron variant.

More than 11,000 patients with COVID in Florida hospitals

Medical staff tended to 11,170 COVID-positive patients across Florida, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday. And 1,453 of them were adults hospitals' intensive care units.

When the delta variant drove Florida hospitalizations past 11,000 on Aug. 2, ICUs had 2,422 adults. The damage done by omicron appears less severe than delta in part because millions more people statewide are vaccinated than during the summer.

Still, the omicron wave is flooding hospitals with mostly unvaccinated patients. Statewide hospitalizations have surged nearly 1,000% in the past four weeks.

Florida's biggest county, Miami-Dade continues to report that around 70% of its COVID-positive patients are not vaccinated.

Florida has experienced a bigger surge in COVID-positive patients over the past month than any other state. Since Dec. 14, hospitals took in 9,939 patients infected with the airborne pathogen.

Florida is No. 4 for total coronavirus hospitalizations, behind California, New York and Texas.

Chris Persaud is a data reporter for The Palm Beach Post.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Omicron deaths spike in Florida as surge's deadly toll begins to show

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