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Pandemic outpacing vaccinations as post-holiday surge hammers Florida

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

A trifecta of bad pandemic news in Florida unfolded last week, culminating Friday with the state learning nearly half the known cases of the mutated coronavirus from Britain found in the United States have been found in Florida.

The state recorded its second-highest single-day new COVID-19 case count Thursday and was classified Wednesday by the White House as a national red-hot spot for coronavirus transmission.

This is just the beginning of an anticipated post-holiday COVID-19 surge, warned Gov. Ron DeSantis, who assured in Thursday and Friday news conferences that Florida was ready to handle a jump in infections and prepared to orchestrate a post-holiday acceleration in vaccinations.

DeSantis continued to take heat for varying from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that recommend those over age 75 and essential workers, such as "critical retail" workers, be vaccinated after frontline health care workers.

Florida, instead, is vaccinating those age 65 and older as a priority before essential workers under DeSantis’ directive.

Under the governor’s plan, hospitals are responsible for administering the shots to anyone age 65 and older who wants one. As a result, seniors have swamped online registration sites and lined up outside hospitals for hours – overnight in several counties – waiting for shots.

DeSantis said Monday much of the vaccine confusion is being engendered by hospitals and threatened to divert vaccines from less proficient hospitals to those that are getting more vaccine doses into more arms.

The governor predicted Thursday a swift snap-to by providers.

“As hospitals have gotten through their workers, what you’re now seeing is hospitals being more aggressive to our senior citizens. That’s our top priority at this point,” DeSantis said.

Florida had received 1.15 million vaccine doses and administered 339,000 doses as of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) said.

The White House COVID-19 Task Force’s Jan. 3 report classified Florida as “red,” which means the number of COVID-19 cases, test positivity rates and community transmission rates are increasing in 90% of the state’s 67 counties.

“Florida is in full pandemic resurgence and must increase mitigation, along with an active COVID vaccination program to decrease community spread and save lives,” the report stated.

The task force also raised concerns about DeSantis’ vaccine policy that essentially leaves providers in charge.

“Creating complexity is resulting in poor immunization rates,” it stated, especially with alarming post-holiday numbers already surfacing in Florida.

Florida nearly broke its single-day record of new COVID-19 cases Thursday, tallying 19,816 new cases. The single-day record was established New Year’s Eve, with 21,020 new cases reported.

According to the FDOH, 170 COVID-19 deaths were reported Thursday and more than 7,331 people were hospitalized with the virus in the state.

Since March, more than 22,400 people have died from the disease in Florida. For every 100,000 Floridians, 104.1 have died from COVID-19.

More than 1.43 million people in Florida have been diagnosed COVID-19 since March. From the 193,251 residents who tested Thursday, the positivity rate declined percent to 11.6% from Wednesday.

The CDC published a map Friday that shows 22 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus virus have been found in Florida.

California, which has reported 26 cases, and Florida constitute the vast majority of diagnosed B.1.1.7 variant cases.

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