ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida was once again mentioned in the White House COVID-19 Task Force briefing Thursday as a hotspot for COVID-19. 

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"Florida, Texas and Missouri — three states with lower vaccination rates — accounted for 40% of all cases nationwide," said Jeff Zeints, the White House's coronavirus coordinator.

An analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows Florida is averaging more than 6,400 new cases per day, nearly twice what it was a week ago and four times what it was a month ago. According to the data, Florida also tops California and Texas, which both have a daily average of around 4,800 cases.

In the latest report from Florida's Department of Health, for July 16 through July 22, Central Florida counties saw the following case positivity rates:

  • Brevard County: 20.3%, up from 16% from July 9 through July 15
  • Flagler County: 22.1%, up from 18.1%
  • Lake County: 17.8%, up from 13%
  • Marion County: 18.5%, up from 14.7%
  • Orange County: 15.6%, up from 12.3%
  • Osceola County: 16.5%, up from 12.7%
  • Seminole County: 19.4%, up from 15.9%
  • Sumter County: 11.7%, up from 9.9%
  • Volusia County: 21.6%, up from 16.5%

The current positivity rates are higher in many of the counties with lower COVID-19 vaccination rates:

  • Brevard County: 57%
  • Flagler County: 60%
  • Lake County: 58%
  • Marion County: 52%
  • Orange County: 61%
  • Osceola County: 62%
  • Seminole County: 59%
  • Sumter County: 69%
  • Volusia County: 54%

AdventHealth Central Florida announced Thursday that it would defer elective surgeries that require hospital stays and limit patient visitors because of the rise in COVID cases — more than 700 COVID patients are currently hospitalized across its network.

As first reported by our partners at the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Health announced Friday that it has adjusted its visitation policy because of the increasing number of COVID cases. Patients without a positive COVID test can have two visitors daily during visiting hours, Orlando Health spokesperson Nicole Ray told the Sentinel.  Adults can bring a masked child under 3 to all hospitals as a second visitor for non-COVID patients, except in the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Patients at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital are limited to the same two adults as visitors throughout their entire hospital stay, the Sentinel reported.

Each patient in emergency or surgical areas can have one visitor daily, but no minors are allowed in those areas, Orlando Health told the Sentinel.

Other hospitals report similar rises in COVID hospitalizations.

The testing site at Barnett Park in Orlando has reached capacity within about two hours of closing multiple days this week, but vaccines were available all day.

Health officials across the area say there are two main factors that account for the increase: the Delta variant, and the unvaccinated.

Brevard County cases mirror height of the pandemic

Health officials say COVID cases are on the rise in Brevard County.

Last week, Florida Department of Health data says Brevard County recorded 1,443 cases — that's compared to 246 cases the week of June 3.

That mirrors infection levels last seen at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Health First Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Jeffrey Stalnaker said hospital visits are up countywide.

"What we're seeing is the vast majority, about 95% of individuals that are being hospitalized, are unvaccinated and likely being infected with the Delta variant," he said.

Stats show the majority of patients testing positive are between the ages of 20 and 40 years old.

"Because of their youth and health they are faring better. However, about 30% of those in our hospital right now are in the ICU," said Stalnaker. "But we do have less of a percentage on ventilators than we saw last year."

Brevard Fire Rescue averaged 10 to 15 daily transports of patients with virus symptoms to local hospitals during the height of the pandemic last year. BCFR says transports are back up to an average of 10 a day.

Stalnaker says getting a vaccine doesn't 100% guarantee immunity, but provides close to 100% defense of becoming sick enough for a hospital visit.

"The death rate among vaccinated individuals who contract COVID is very, very small, so the key to this whole thing is to get immunized," he said.

Statistics show 57% of Brevard residents are vaccinated — less than the 59% statewide.

"I am confident that what we have in the hospital is related to Delta"

COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising in Volusia County at an alarming rate, breaking records at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach.  Doctors said that their admittance numbers for COVID cases have doubled over the last month. 

Dr. Margaret Crossman, Chief Medical Officer at Halifax Health, said they are seeing more COVID-19 patients than ever before —most of them unvaccinated.

“You know, to see patients in the hospital who are struggling to breathe and they are thinking, 'Gee, I could have had a vaccine,' that is a very hard place to be,” said Crossman. “There is no going back in that situation.”

As of Thursday afternoon, 79 people were currently admitted into the hospital for COVID-19, according to Crossman.

“We have about a quarter of those are in critical care units,” she said. “In the critical care units, half of those patients are on ventilators.”

Crossman said that before this, the most they ever had at one time was a little over 50 COVID-19 patients back in January. Until recently, they held steady at about 20 positive patients at a time. However, she said there are several factors fueling this new surge.

“I am confident that what we have in the hospital is related to Delta, I have no doubt about that,” she said, referencing data from the Department of Health. “We’ve got a partially vaccinated population, so that gives a lot of leeway for these variants to make their way through again, just circling through, and as summer hit, people began to vacation, travel more, July 4, social gatherings, all of those things are contributing.”

Crossman said that vaccines are the key to stopping these numbers from climbing any higher.

“You know based on the vaccinated patients we have in this community, we are seeing by-and-large they are not what is comprising our hospitalizations,” she said.  “We do have a few vaccinated patients in the hospital, but it is less than 10% of our total patients that are being admitted with COVID, and the same with those on ventilators. It is around 10% are vaccinated, 90% are those who are unvaccinated.”

Crossman said that as of Thursday, Volusia County’s vaccination rate is just over 50%. Crossman is confident there is a direct connection between that percentage and the surge.

“When you compare what we are experiencing with some of the counties that have say 60% and 70% vaccination rates, we are certainly seeing more than they are,” she said.

Crossman hopes to see more Volusia residents get vaccinated soon. Despite this surge, she said those who are vaccinated can continue with their summer plans.

“If you are vaccinated and otherwise pretty healthy, you should feel OK going out and continuing things as you were doing,” said Crossman.

Crossman is hopeful that this surge will level out in about two weeks.