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Covid infections in Florida skyrocket as treatments remain scarce


People stand in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Miami Beach, Florida on December 22. | Joe Raedle / Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s new Covid-19 infections have more than quadrupled in the past week as the new variant of Omicron spreads across the state while treatments remain scarce.

The Florida Department of Health’s latest weekly newly reported Covid-19 infection rate was 13.8 percent on Thursday, the latest available numbers. That is double the 5.4 percent rate on December 17th. The state health ministry also reported 125,201 new infections on Thursday, up from 29,519 new infections as of December 17.

Florida Department of Health officials said hospitalization rates for Omicron are lower across the state. DOH spokesman Weesam Khoury said the agency is also continuing several other efforts to combat the spread of Covid.

“We continue to monitor the severity of the Omicron variant’s disease. To date, the data suggest that symptoms appear to be less severe than the Delta variant, ”wrote Khoury in an email. “Fortunately, early data seem to show a lower per capita hospitalization rate than previous variants.”

Kartik Cherabuddi, associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida, said there may not be enough monoclonal body cocktails to run around as the state sees a surge in Omicron-related infections. Monoclonal therapy treatments like sotrovimab are rare after Omicron infections rose in cold weather states last month.

A new antiviral drug called paxlovid, which could also fight Omicron, was approved by federal agencies last week. The Ministry of Health and Welfare allocated 2,580 doses of sotrovimab to the state last week.

“We don’t have sotrovimab or paxlovid – the two most effective therapies for Omicron,” said Cherabuddi. “We have received a lot of calls from providers and patients, but we just don’t have the medication.”

Cherabuddi said the number of infections is higher because more people are either using home test kits or self-diagnosing. Omicron is also highly contagious, which could compound the ongoing shortage of medical staff that has been angered by the pandemic.

Covid-related hospital admissions are also rising, if not enough to overwhelm hospitals across the country, but the surge in Omicron-related infections is expected to continue for another two weeks. Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association, said the roughly 3,000 people hospitalized with Covid on Tuesday were nowhere near the 17,000 patients at the peak of the delta surge, but staffing problems had worsened.

“Our biggest challenge with increasing hospital stays is the severity of our labor shortage,” Mayhew said, later adding that Covid-ill employees “make the shortage worse.”

More than 70 percent of Floridians had been vaccinated by Friday. Cherabuddi said Omicron’s tragedy will be when the number of people killed by Covid-19 increases as thousands remain unvaccinated.

“Even the fewer deaths that result will be tragic in some ways,” said Cherabuddi. “Why is that? To know everything we know and to know that this would happen. ”

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