With a new wave of COVID omicron cases surging in Miami-Dade County, the percentage of positive tests locally, known as the positivity rate, has skyrocketed, representing a fourfold increase since April and likely an undercount due to home testing.
On Monday, Miami-Dade County’s seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rate rose to 22%, up from the 5% rate on April 8, according to the county’s COVID-19 Daily Dashboard. The latest number is approaching rates at the height of the omicron rise in January, when positivity rates soared 35%.
“We should definitely be concerned now,” said Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at Florida International University. “Actually, we should have been worried for several weeks now.”
The mayor of Miami-Dade acknowledged the rise in case counts and positivity rates, but said county residents are in a better position to weather the surge, the sixth wave since the coronavirus began in March 2020, as a result. of your vaccines.
“Miami-Dade is now in a new phase of the pandemic,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Miami Herald Thursday afternoon. “We didn’t beat this virus, but we know how to control it. We are the most vaccinated county in Florida and our protection efforts are paying off.”
As of Thursday, 86% of Miami-Dade’s total population was fully vaccinated, about 2.3 million people. Florida’s total vaccination rate is 67.5%; the US rate is 66.7%. Fully vaccinated means that people received the single dose J&J/Janssen vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. It does not include a booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trepka says there’s a positive note in the county’s high positivity rate: Hospitalizations didn’t reach levels during the initial rise in omicron, which started in December, peaked in January and started to decline in February. Immunity to the virus, whether through vaccination or previous infection, is keeping many out of the hospital.
“We have the staff, beds and resources to manage the current volume of COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, Professor of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
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Two new omicron variants fueling the rise
The increase in cases is being fueled by the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which are creating a surge in new COVID-19 cases across the country. On Tuesday, the CDC reported that the two variants, first identified in South Africa in January and February, respectively, account for 13% of US cases in the week ending June 4.
In the first week of May, the two variants only accounted for about 1% of new COVID cases, the CDC said in its Tuesday update, which was the first time the CDC has released the two variants in its weekly variant report. of COVID-19.
Public health experts said these variants can evade some immune protections, making them more contagious.
On Tuesday, the first three cases of the BA.4 variant were found in Florida, Miami-Dade County, according to a lab report.
READ MORE: There’s a new, more contagious omicron strain and it’s in Miami-Dade. here’s what we know
In Florida, cases and positivity rates began to rise in early April. New cases slowly increased, and towards the end of the month, hospitalizations began to rise — though not close to the levels of the January increase. Deaths have remained relatively low, with about 100 to 300 people dying of COVID-19 weekly in Florida since April.
In the first week of June, the case count surpassed the double digits. The state saw its seven-day average of new cases hit 10,927 on Thursday, nearly double that of a month ago when the seven-day average was 5,424, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data.
While Miami-Dade County is not making new safety recommendations, such as requiring masks in county buildings — mandates county leaders have adopted during previous outbreaks — the county says it has a plan in place to combat the surge.
Levine Cava has released his BEST Plan, which calls for the community to be vaccinated and reinforced, get tested if they have symptoms or have been exposed, and stay home if sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all South Florida residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in public and on public transportation. That’s because South Florida’s four counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe — have a high rate of community transmission, among the highest in the country.
Experts are echoing the same security measures.
“We must ensure that our people are up to date on their COVID-19 boosters and flu shots.” said Marty.
Trepka emphasized the importance of testing and staying home if you feel sick.
Unvaccinated filling hospitals
Unlike past COVID-19 outbreaks, hospitals were not overwhelmed.
The dominant circulating strains of omicron are highly infectious and can cause serious illness, Marty said. However, high vaccination rates in the community mean that infections do not always lead to hospitalization, although the immunocompromised are at risk.
But for those who haven’t been vaccinated, it’s another story.
Says Marty: “76% of hospitalized patients have never been vaccinated for COVID-19, and virtually all vaccinated people who end up in hospital are elderly, immunocompromised, or have other serious debilitating conditions.”
Dr. Hany Atallah, medical director of Jackson Memorial Hospital, said Thursday that the majority of Jackson’s COVID patients have not been vaccinated.
“We’re also seeing normally what we’ve seen in the past, which is vaccine protection,” Atallah said. “So people who are in the hospital vaccinated tend to get sick less than those who are in the hospital who have never been vaccinated.”
As of Thursday, Jackson Memorial had 124 hospitalized COVID patients, with 26 of those patients in the ICU. On January 12, during the peak of the omicron variant, Jackson had 564 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
Across Florida, 3,105 hospitalized patients are suspected or confirmed to have COVID, with 297 in the ICU, according to Thursday’s report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During the delta wave last summer and the omicron wave in January, the number of patients in Florida hospitals exceeded 15,000 a day.
Atallah said current trends show that hospitalizations will decline through the end of June.
As healthcare workers grapple with a sixth wave of the virus, he says it has been a challenge to balance work and personal safety.
“This has obviously become a marathon,” he said. “And the marathon is not over yet.”