Florida's COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising again as BA.2 subvariant starts to spread

Chris Persaud
Palm Beach Post

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Coronavirus-positive patients are filling up Florida's hospitals once again, but their numbers remain smaller than before the original omicron wave engulfed the state.

Medical staff statewide tended to an average of 738 COVID-positive patients this week, data released Friday by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department shows. That's higher than the week before, but still lower than the four-digit levels recorded in late November and early December.

HHS also reported an average of 92 adults per day this week in intensive care units in Florida, the lowest level on record.

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Health officials have been documenting a rise in new infections since mid-March, but the post-omicron number of COVID-positive hospital patients hasn't risen until this week.

Florida has logged an average of 18,186 new cases each week since April 8, the last time state health officials published a report on coronavirus statistics. That's the highest weekly increase in case counts since Feb. 25, on the tail end of the original omicron wave.

Health experts have said they expect the current coronavirus wave to be less severe than previous ones because most people have either been vaccinated or infected with the pathogen's main omicron strain. Most new infections are caused by omicron subvariants.

The state Health Department has logged 5,899,188 cases since the pandemic began.

About 6.1% of COVID-19 tests have come back positive in the past week, the Health Department reported Friday, an increase from 3.8% two weeks ago.

The omicron subvariant BA.2, also known as “stealth omicron,” currently accounts for 74% of COVID-19 infections in the United States.

Subvariant of BA.2 up to 19% of cases in the U.S.

Omicron subvariant BA.2 remains the dominant strain in the southeastern United States. It comprises about 72% of tests in the Southeast that detect variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported April 16.

But the quickly rising BA.2 descendant BA.2.12.1 comprises about 19% of cases, nearly double the estimated 11% recorded April 9. 

Florida's death toll increased by an average of 146 victims per week in between April 8 and Friday. That's the lowest weekly increase since Dec. 24.

The number of new deaths has slowed since February. But fatalities can take weeks to be processed and added to official statistics.

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Florida health officials cut the state's vaccination count by 1,292 people between April 8 and Friday. The state Health Department offered no explanation when they released their biweekly report after 5 p.m. Friday.

The official total number of Floridians vaccinated has barely budged in the past two weeks, sitting at just under 15.5 million with at least one shot, covering 76% of inoculation-eligible residents ages 5 and older.

That includes nearly 5.2 million people with boosters, or about one in four vaccine-eligible residents.

But the official counts for total vaccinations is at least 600,000 higher than it should be because vaccine providers have erroneously recorded non-residents as residents. Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration has said it has no plans to investigate.

Chris Persaud is The Palm Beach Post's data reporter. Email him at cpersaud@pbpost.com.