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Florida Coronavirus Cases Surge As Mitigation Strategy Remains Unchanged

Photo: Elena Mozhvilo
Photo: Elena Mozhvilo

Florida’s experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus cases following the holidays. WFSU's Valerie Crowder reports the state is continuing to rely on its vaccination, testing and public education strategies to curb the spread of the virus, even as health experts predict another spike in deaths in the coming weeks.
A White House Coronavirus Task Force report issued recently shows Florida is in full coronavirus resurgence. The report says that will, “drive significant fatalities for many weeks, and stress the staffing of the hospital system.” Since the start of the new year, infections have topped more than 10,000 a day. The statewide infection rate is almost 11 percent. And there are more than 7,500 people currently hospitalized with the virus. State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees updated the state Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response on Thursday. “There have been 1.5 million individuals who’ve had COVID. We’ve had more than 23,000 individuals who’ve sadly passed away to this virus. In terms of how we compare in capita to other states. We’re 28th in terms of number of cases per capita. And 22nd in terms of the individuals who have lost their lives to COVID-19.” Some counties are seeing a much more rapid rate of infection. In Bay County, the weekly infection rate hit 21 percent. That figure represents the number of people who tested positive for the virus. “During the holidays there was a spike from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. In our household, we had to do a much different Christmas and New Year and not have the gatherings.” That’s Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll. Despite the surge in infections, Carroll says the county is not considering any additional mitigation efforts. “You can’t punish anyone. You can’t fine anyone if they don’t wear a mask. We’ve encouraged everyone from day one - by doing media campaigns. We’ve done newspaper, radio, billboards, everything, encouraging everyone to do their part in this, be safe, keep your social distance, wear your mask.” The county has reported 246 deaths since the pandemic began. Bay County isn’t the only place in the Panhandle that’s seeing an outbreak in new infections. Rural Liberty County is among the highest in the state for new daily cases per 100,000 people. Florida is racing to curb the spread of COVID-19. And it’s hoping to do that by getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible. Right now, those efforts are geared toward people over 65, healthcare workers and first responders. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees says state officials are also continuing to test people and educate them on safety measures they can take to slow the spread. “We have issued public messaging in terms of how the public can protect themselves. Many of this based on CDC guidance, which continuously gets updated through our website, social media. We have distributed millions and millions of masks to the public, as this has been shown to be an effective mitigation strategy.” Rivkees says the state is monitoring the presence of a new, more contagious strain of the virus - which was first identified in the United Kingdom. The Centers for Disease Control’s latest report shows the new COVID-variant accounts for 0.5 percent of all new cases across the country. “This was detected in Florida right before New Year’s. This is more transmissible than earlier viruses about fifty percent more. if you have a ten percent risk of getting COVID following exposure, now that goes up to about fifteen percent.”

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.