3 To Know: Florida at high risk of straining hospitals, more

Marco Eagle
The first cluster of COVID-19 cases in Onslow County Schools has been reported at Dixon High School.

1. Much of Florida at high risk of straining hospitals

The latest wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by omicron subvariants of the coronavirus, has surged so much that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people in most of central and southern Florida should mask up while indoors.

The CDC’s 'COVID-19 Community Levels' system says the disease has a high risk of straining hospitals in much of Florida, including its east coast south of St. Johns County; Alachua County; counties along Interstate 4; and the parts of Interstate 75 stretching from Tampa Bay through Sarasota County.

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In these counties, infection tallies have soared past 200 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past week. Over that same time, COVID hospitalizations have risen past 10 per 100,000 in the same period, meaning at least 10% of hospital beds are occupied by patients who tested positive.

Two weeks ago, only the South Florida counties of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade were categorized as high-risk. The CDC recommends indoor masking only in high-risk counties.

Florida health officials logged an average of 69,329 new cases weekly since May 20, the last time the state published its COVID-19 report. That’s the biggest weekly caseload increase since Feb. 11. The state Health Department has documented almost 6.2 million infections since the start of the pandemic.

Sewage readings from across the state show no signs yet of the contagion relenting. Miami-Dade County recorded 999 viral fragments for every milliliter of wastewater, the highest level since Jan. 12, according to Boston-based Biobot Analytics, which tests samples from across the nation.

It’s a similar story in sewage from the Tampa Bay area counties of Pinellas and Hillsborough, along with Orange County, which contains Orlando, and its northern neighbor, Seminole County.

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2. Vaccine for young kids may be next

The Biden administration said Thursday that children under 5 may be able to get their first COVID-19 vaccination doses as soon as June 21, if federal regulators authorize shots for the age group, as expected.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha outlined the administration’s planning for the last remaining ineligible age group to get shots. He said the Food and Drug Administration’s outside panel of advisers will meet on June 14-15 to evaluate the Pfizer and Moderna shots for younger kids. Shipments to doctors’ offices and pediatric care facilities would begin soon after FDA authorization, with the first shots possible the following week.

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Jha said states could begin placing orders for pediatric vaccines on Friday, and said the administration has an initial supply of 10 million doses available. He said it may take a few days for vaccines to arrive across the country and appointments to be widespread.

“Our expectation is that within weeks every parent who wants their child to get vaccinated will be able to get an appointment,” Jha said.

That would give parents the opportunity to get their children fully vaccinated in time for next school year.

The Biden administration is pressing states to prioritize large-volume sites like children’s hospitals, and to make appointments available outside regular work hours to make it easier for parents to get their kids vaccinated.

3. 16 Florida mayors demand action on mass shootings

Sixteen city mayors from Florida joined with more than 200 mayors nationwide to exhort the U.S. Senate to pass two gun-safety bills that got the green light from the House more than a year ago.

The letter, crafted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was sent Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Mayors from Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa and Miami were among those from Florida to sign the letter.

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It was first written two years ago following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left scores of people dead at the hands of gunmen using assault-style weapons. Thursday’s letter was updated in response to the latest horrific shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo and New York.

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The mayors want the Senate to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021(H.R. 8) and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (H.R. 1446). The House last year passed both bills.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 would expand background checks to be required on all firearm sales, closing the gun show and online sales loopholes.

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The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 closes the so-called “Charleston Loophole,” which allows the firearms sales to proceed if a background check is not completed within three business days. The legislation would give the FBI more time to do a background check on a potential firearms buyer before a licensed dealer can transfer a gun.