ORLANDO, Fla. – Health officials are pleading for people to follow the science when it comes to COVID-19.
“We’re over the virus, but the virus is not over with us,” Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty said.
Husty said most medical professionals predicted COVID-19 positivity rates would increase after mask and social distancing mandates were lifted.
The latest data from the Florida Health Department shows more than 45,000 new cases have been reported with an 11.5% positivity rate. That’s about four times higher than this time in June.
Charts from the state health department illustrate that while COVID-19 cases have been rising in the past four weeks, vaccination numbers are falling.
“This is not going in the right direction. We’ve been noticing that for four weeks, and it just keeps going that way,” Husty said.
So, what do positivity rates really mean when everyone isn’t being tested on a consistent basis?
“Positivity rate is a little hard to gauge because if we’re worried about, ‘Could I have the disease?’ Everybody shows up, and the positivity rate will be low. But if just the sick people are going in to get tested, the positivity rate will be high. It depends on who is going to get tested,” Husty said.
Husty said along with weekly positivity rates, we should be paying attention to the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. The data was eliminated from the state health department’s COVID-19 reports since June.
University of South Florida epidemiologist, Dr. Jason Salemi, has been tracking the outbreak for more than a year, compiling data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Although the state doesn’t send out the data, they do report it to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, so I’ve been downloading them from there. The rates of hospital admissions have gone up for every age group so a combination of things is driving it up, including the Delta variant. It affects those who are vulnerable and those who are unvaccinated,” Salemi said.
Salemi said the latest data from hospitals that report to the health department shows about 2,800 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Florida. That’s a 73% jump from last month.
“Ninety-seven percent of all new COVID hospitalizations are among people who are not fully vaccinated. The good news there is that it looks like most instances of severe illness and death of COVID-19 are preventable,” Salemi said.
Officials with the CDC say there will likely be a rise in virus-related hospitalizations in the next month. The agency published a forecast Wednesday projecting there will be between 2,000 to 11,000 new hospitalizations by Aug. 9.
Some people are wondering if states with high positivity rates will go back to mask-wearing and social distancing mandates. Husty said other countries are already going back to health and safety guidelines implemented at the beginning of the pandemic.
“There are a lot of countries going backward, way [back] because they are having a resurgence of COVID. Are we there right now? No. Could we be? Well, if we start losing our immunity and people aren’t doing the right stuff, we’re going to have a huge resurgence and we’ll be back there again. So why don’t we do it all now and nip it in the bud by getting vaccinated,” Husty said. “Please follow the science and get vaccinated. If you choose not to, follow the science, and wear your face mask because you are at risk.”
The latest data from the state health department shows the age groups with the highest positivity rates and lowest vaccination rates are those between 12 and 29 years of age.