Florida hospitalizations due to covid-19 have increased by 25 percent over the last two weeks and more than 35 percent in the last 30 days, according to a top Florida health care regulator. Self-reported data from hospitals published by the state shows 3,034 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of covid-19 as of Tuesday.
In Flagler, hospitalizations with a primary diagnosis of covid-19 bottomed out at two in mid-October, but have since risen again, albeit slowly, reaching nine on Nov. 3 and settling back to around seven most days since. There were seven hospitalizations in Palm Coast as of today. The county has been totaling more than 100 new infections per week for the past three weeks, and appears on track for over 100 this week as well. There were 26 cases reported last Saturday alone, and 48 cases since.
So far 40 local residents have died because of the disease, making it the sixth or seventh leading cause of death in Flagler this year, ahead of car crashes, suicides, Parkinson’s or Alzheimner’s and on par with diabetes.
On a phone call with hospital providers Tuesday, Agency for Health Care Administration interim Secretary Shevaun L. Harris described the increase in hospitalizations statewide as the number of Covid cases in the state continue to climb, despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push for a return to normalcy. As of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health reported 852,174 COVID-19 cases in Florida, an increase of 4,353 cases from a Monday count.
The health department data also show that nearly 4 percent of the state’s nursing home residents have tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday. The rising number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations was predictable, according to Manuel Gordillo, medical director of Sarasota Memorial Health Care System’s Infection Prevention and Control department. The spike in Covid-19 cases in Florida and nationwide can be attributed to pandemic fatigue, mixed messages from television and social media, and “wrong messaging coming from the top,” Gordillo said, an allusion to Gov. Ron DeSantis scrapping all restrictions on business and restaurant capacity restrictions, forbidding local governments from enforcing mask mandates and essentially letting the pandemic run free.
“And, whether Floridians know it or not,” the Tampa Bay Times reported about DeSantis this week, “he is pursuing a policy that will allow the virus to spread freely in the state until most of the population becomes infected — or is vaccinated with a yet-to-be obtained vaccine — while attempting to protect those thought to be most vulnerable. … He has since spent more time and commanded more media attention to his “open-everything” policy than on encouraging people to prevent contagion. It is the same policy advanced by Scott Atlas, the controversial White House coronavirus adviser who does not have a background in infectious diseases.”
Local health officials, including Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia Health Department, have argued strongly against a herd-immunity approach. Aside from the heavy death toll, it’s not an option “in any short-term time-frame,” Bickel wrote in July, “probably a minimum of three years is required, maybe up to five, to develop herd immunity in a population, and what are you supposed to do in the meantime? And you’re presuming that letting the disease run its course through the community won’t cause material damage to the economy by itself. You’re also assuming people won’t stop carrying on their business activities out of fear.”
Herd immunity means that enough people have contracted (and presumably survived) the virus that its ability to spread is significantly diminished. If a certain proportion of the population has become immune, it creates protections for the rest. Many people who refuse to get vaccinated for, say, polio or other diseases for which schools usually require immunization are taking advantage of herd immunity created by those who have been vaccinated. But getting to herd immunity with covid would require long-lasting immunity to the coronavirus in 60 to 70 percent of the population, Bickel said.
“That would mean 210 to 245 million people needing to get naturally infected,” the physician wrote, “and if you use a fatality rate of somewhere between
0.3% and 0.5%, figures which are on the low end of the range, you end up with somewhere between 630,000 and 1.25 million deaths before this thing is contained. It’s far from clear to me that our citizens have the stomach for this amount of death.”
But that approach is in effect in Florida at the moment. The state has been spared the massive spike in cases unfolding in much of the country, where the weather has become colder, new cases are breaking records almost daily. There were 142,000 new cases on Veterans Day.
The surge across the country has struck states indiscriminately, but has generally followed colder weather as it descends further and further south, raising concern locally that the late fall and winter’s colder weather, combined with late November and December’s holidays, will combined to replicate the spike being seen across the country. “All these are something that the virus loves,” Gordillo said Monday in a video posted on YouTube by Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.
On Monday, drug manufacturer Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE announced that their Covid-19 vaccine candidate had a more than 90-percent efficacy rate seven days after the second dose of the vaccine was administered. The companies are accumulating the required safety data and will apply for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this month, after safety milestones are reached, the announcement said. Meanwhile, Gordillo, in an echo of repeated cautions by local health officials such as Bickel and Bob Snyder, director of the Flagler health department, said the best tools currently available to Florida and the nation are non-pharmaceutical: social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the creation of a coronavirus task force comprised of scientists and physicians that will help guide his policies.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida