FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases again jumped significantly last week as the vaccination rate in rural counties where some of the worst outbreaks are occurring remains well below the state and national averages.
About 5,300 Floridians are now hospitalized with COVID, a 65% jump since the previous week and nearly a tripling since June 14 when 1,845 were hospitalized, the Florida Hospital Association said. Officials have said more than 95% of those hospitalized were not vaccinated.
About 60% of residents 12 and older are vaccinated, according to the state, equal to the national rate. But the percentage of vaccinated adults remains low in the state’s rural, strongly conservative north, where some counties are at about 30% as residents don’t trust the vaccination program but have high infection rates.
More than 73,000 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide over the past week, according to the state health department, nearly seven times the 12,000 reported a month ago. Florida’s numbers had been falling since mid-January when 100,000 new cases per week were reported and 8,200 were hospitalized just as the vaccination program began.
“This thing got politicized nationally, and we’re paying the price,” said Jared Moskowitz, the state’s former emergency management director. “This is mostly now a pandemic amongst the unvaccinated.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been vaccinated, this week encouraged the remaining unvaccinated Floridians to get their shots.
“If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” DeSantis said. “These vaccines are saving lives.”
More than 38,000 Floridians have died with COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020, including an average of 33 per day over the past week. That’s compared with 24 per day earlier this month. In late January, 185 Floridians per day were dying.
Still, despite the recent surge, DeSantis said the state will not return to government mandates — in May, he barred municipalities from imposing their own and banned businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. He said it is up to individuals on how they deal with the pandemic.
“We have a situation where we have three vaccines that have been widely available for months and months now and people need to make decisions that are best for them,” he said. “To have the government come in and to lock anyone down or restrict anyone is totally unacceptable.”