Variant’s Spread in Florida Shows Threat to U.S. Covid Recovery
(Bloomberg) -- A highly infectious Covid-19 variant is circulating widely in Florida, prompting concern that a resurgence of the virus is possible in the state and beyond, even as cases and hospitalizations drop dramatically.
In Florida, as elsewhere in the U.S., Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped significantly from recent highs, helped by progress in the vaccination campaign. But conditions aren’t improving quite as quickly in the Sunshine State, at least in certain key categories.
The per-capita rate of Covid-19 patients currently in Florida hospitals is now about 25% above the national average. And new patients are arriving at its hospital emergency departments at slightly higher rates than the rest of the country.
Florida isn’t the place with the most Covid-burdened hospitals -- New York is -- but the underperformance bears watching because Florida has the highest estimated concentration of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant.
In recent days, more than 30% of Covid-19 samples from Florida indicate the presence of the contagious mutation that has caused havoc in the U.K., according to an analysis by testing company Helix. Nationwide, Helix data suggest the variant accounts for more than 20% cases, though the figures are extrapolations based on a fraction of cases.
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In addition, Florida’s cases appear to peak at different times than in the rest of the country, probably in part because of differences in climate. Florida saw very little Covid-19 activity at the start of the pandemic, but cases surged in June and July -- a period that generally drives Floridians indoors to escape the heat.
About 17.6% of Floridians have had at least one shot of a vaccine, in line with the 17.7% national average, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
While Texas and Mississippi recently lifted statewide mask mandates, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis never instituted one, which has prompted concern among public-health experts throughout the pandemic. But local practice doesn’t necessarily reflect the policy: As of this month, 73% of Floridians say they always wear a mask outside of the home, just below the national average of 77%, according to survey data provided by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
- The U.S. posted 46,696 Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the seven-day average to 60,041, the lowest since Oct. 21, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
- There have been more than 525,000 deaths overall in the U.S., the data show.
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