COVID-19 cases and testing surging in Southwest Florida again, though with fewer hospitalizations
The number of COVID-19 infections has sharply increased in Southwest Florida but, for now, related hospitalizations have not followed at the same breakneck pace, according to publicly available health data.
Meanwhile, a review of online scheduling apps for retail pharmacies in Lee and Collier counties shows few available slots for COVID-19 testing immediately after the holiday weekend, while testing sites throughout Florida had long wait lines.
Collier County reported 1,130 cases in the latest week, up 291% from a week earlier, when it reported 289 cases. The county has counted a total of 60,653 cases since March of 2020. Collier’s spike was the 10th highest in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 cases in Lee County surged by 248%, up to 1,815 cases in the latest week. A week earlier, it reported 522 cases. The county has seen 31,680 cases since the start of the pandemic.
"We're really in a holding pattern to see what happens next," Larry Antonucci, Lee Health's president and CEO, told The News-Press/Naples Daily News last week as infection rates began rising rapidly. Lee Health is Southwest Florida's largest hospital operator. "We're ready, and we'll deal with whatever occurs."
Lee Health had 51 patients with COVID-19 on Monday, according to spokesman Jonathon Little. Five days ago, the number was 34, which was 21% higher than two weeks earlier.
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Lee Health announced Monday that it is closing its vaccination clinic at Gulf Coast Medical Center on Dec. 29 due to the high availability of vaccines elsewhere. The hospital system, which also operates clinics performing COVID-19 testing, did not have any information on wait times Monday.
NCH Healthcare System, which operates Collier County's largest hospitals, counted 17 such cases on Monday. That's up from 9 two weeks before.
"Case numbers remain manageable but have crept slightly from the low teens to the high teens," NCH spokesman Shawn McConnell wrote in an email Monday. "Patients requiring intensive care, however, have continued to drop over the charted time frame."
Long waits for COVID-19 testing were common throughout Florida on Monday, according to statewide news reports and Nomi Health, the operator of more than 80 testing sites in the state, including the site at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in South Fort Myers.
Residents and visitors seeking tests at the site reported waits of more than an hour on Monday.
"I think there are a number of factors that could be leading to that," said Ron Goncalves, Nomi Health's general manager for Florida. "I think that some of it is, as people get into the holidays — whether that's visiting family, traveling or something else — they're taking the right precautions. In other instances, I think it's because of how quickly the omicron variant is spreading."
Omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Nomi Health administered nearly 80,000 free tests throughout Florida on Dec. 23, the highest for the month and the highest number it has administered to date, according to the company. It administered just under 52,000 tests statewide on Sunday.
The company's biggest testing operation is in Miami-Dade County, where it had administered about 23,000 tests as of 11 a.m. Monday.
Miami-Dade has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, with cases coming in about 19.3 times the level the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says counts as high levels of community transmission.
Of Florida’s 67 counties, 19 have rates at least double what the CDC says is high, the data show.
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Florida ranked ninth among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the latest week, the state admitted 4,287 COVID-19 patients, up sharply from 2,835 a week earlier. And 330 people were in ICU beds, up from 299 a week earlier.
U.S. coronavirus cases increased 47% from the week before, with 1,388,833 cases reported. With 6.45% of the country's population, Florida had 8.99% of the country's cases in the last week.
Across the country, 26 states had more cases in the latest week than they did in the week before.
USA TODAY Network - Florida reporters Mike Stucka and Mike Braun contributed to this report.
Frank Gluck is a watchdog reporter with The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @FrankGluck.