Support local journalism. Become a digital subscriber with full access to any of our Florida publications.
As the so-called “stealth omicron” coronavirus subvariant nurtures yet another wave of infections across Florida and the nation, medical experts expect it to be milder than the increases that preceded it.
This week, for the first time in several months, Florida recorded an increase in new weekly COVID-19 cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. However, most Americans have been vaccinated against the disease or have been infected with the omicron variant. For these reasons, experts say, the BA.2 subvariant, which nourishes the current rise in infections, should not lead to large increases in hospitalizations and deaths.
Florida recorded 10,137 more COVID-19 infections in the week ending Thursday, the CDC reports.
How safe is Floridians against COVID? The state counts vaccinations by 600,000 people
COVID-19 cases rise in Florida:Weekly COVID-19 cases rise in Florida, Palm Beach County for the first time since January
COVID variant BA.2 in Florida:Here’s what we know about the omicron subvariant
That is higher than the average of 8,371 recorded in the previous two weeks. And it is the first time since the beginning of December that the weekly number of cases has grown, showing the increase in the BA.2 subvariant.
But that increase has come slower than the original omicron strain.
Florida’s week-to-week number of coronavirus cases has grown steadily in the 10 days ranging from March 22 to Thursday, CDC data show. But it was not until Thursday that the federal agency registered more than 10,000 cases in the week leading up to it.
It only took five days from November 27, the start of the omicron wave, for the state-wide number of cases from week to week to exceed 10,000.
‘Stealth’ omicron arrives:COVID-19 ‘stealth’ omicron variant arrives in Tallahassee; cases, low admissions
Should you vaccinate your children against COVID? Politics vs. Medicine: Florida condemns COVID vaccine for children, but health experts disagree
The expert does not expect the wave of BA.2 to be severe
“We would not expect to see a large number of serious cases,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Ira Longini. He and his colleagues are working to predict how the BA.2 wave will unfold across the country.
“We expect an increase,” he said. “I do not think it will be steep. Probably a pretty flat curve. ” As long as BA.2 remains the dominant strain that infects humans, Longini expects cases to rise slowly in “three to four months,” he said, without a concomitant sharp rise in hospitalizations, as seen below the height of previous waves.
Even as Florida’s caseload rises again, nationwide hospital admissions hit a low pandemic Friday. Medical staff across the state cared for 752 patients who tested positive for the disease, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It includes 118 adults in intensive care units, the lowest level recorded since enrollment began in July 2020.
Longini does not expect hospitalizations to increase as much as previous waves because most people have either been infected by the primary omicron strain or have received their vaccines and booster shots.
More than 5.8 million COVID cases have been recorded in Florida since the pandemic began, the CDC reports. About 37% of them have come since November 27th. At least three-quarters of vaccinated Floridians age 5 and older have received at least one shot, and about one in four have been boosted, state data has shown.
Health experts at California-based medical firm Kinsa, which monitors readings from “smart” thermometers across the country to detect infectious outbreaks, said BA.2 should be less dangerous than previous versions of the virus.
“While laboratory data indicated that BA.2 may have features that could make it more serious, this has not played out in the real world,” the company said in a statement Friday. “The severity is similar to the original omicron subtype (BA.1) and immunity from a previous BA.1 infection or being fully vaccinated and boosted holds up well to BA.2 (70% + of the US population has some degree of immunity to omicron). “
The COVID-19 death toll is back at pre-micron levels
Meanwhile, Florida’s weekly COVID deaths have fallen back to pre-micron levels.
The state’s death toll has risen by 127 residents since March 25, a comparison of data from the CDC and Florida Health Department shows. It is the lowest seven-day sum since the week ending December 24th.
The respiratory disease has killed at least 73,244 Florida residents since the start of the pandemic. State health officials in June stopped publishing infections and deaths among non-residents who tested positive in the state, hiding the total number of cases and victims.
The majority of Florida fatalities were documented after May 1 last year, when COVID vaccines became widely available, free of charge, to residents aged 16 and older. Most victims since then lacked inoculation, CDC data show. Florida health officials choose not to disclose vaccination status to residents who succumbed to the disease, but share the data with the federal agency, which combines it with information from other states and reports it weeks later.
Nearly 16.9 million Floridians have received at least one shot in the arm since Thursday, the CDC said. That number is about 1.5 million people higher than what the state reported on March 25th. But that does not mean that inoculations have increased by that amount. The CDC routinely reports much higher numbers than Florida health officials do.
COVID boosters:Who can get another booster for COVID-19 vaccine? Where can I get an extra booster in Florida?
CDC representatives could not be reached immediately Friday afternoon to explain the seven-digit discrepancy between its figures and that of the state. Part of the difference, the CDC has said, is that it counts federal personnel stationed in Florida, while the state health minister may not.
The CDC has recorded nearly 5.6 million booster shots administered in Florida, compared to the state’s health authorities’ figure of 5.1 million as of March 25th.
The Florida Department of Health now publishes coronavirus statistics every two weeks instead of weekly. It was due to release its next report on April 8. But it regularly sends data to the CDC. This makes comparing state data from week to week impossible.
Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post’s data reporter. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.