Are Florida’s latest COVID numbers less concerning than rest of the nation?

While looking at Florida’s seven-day average shows a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases, doctors fear the uptick may be far greater.

“If they are asymptomatic or just have mild symptoms, are they actually going and getting tested? So are we capturing all of the infections that are occurring?” USF infectious disease expert Dr. Jason Salemi said. “When you take a step back and look at Florida relative to the rest of the nation — as is much of the southeast — we are doing better in terms of new infection rates.”

That’s in part due to our weather, unlike in the northeast where a dip in temperatures forced more people to huddle inside, and the nuance of new case data reporting.

“If we are seeing a lot of reinfections, the Florida numbers, and numbers in many other jurisdictions that choose to report this way, we may not be picking those reinfections up because the definition of a new case is that you never tested positive before,” Salemi said.

One year this week, pandemic history was made in South Florida as frontline healthcare workers at Memorial Regional Hospital and Jackson Memorial Hospital received the first Pfizer doses.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in #Florida on December 14, 2020. https://t.co/YsCTT29tgC There was such a feeling of hope expressed by Pandemic-weary frontline healthcare workers – that this was the start of the end. https://t.co/mDnvts4r9g #COVID19 🧵 pic.twitter.com/DHzUIPINcZ

— Christina Boomer Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) December 15, 2021

RELATED LINK: Local 10 News team coverage of Pfizer vaccine first arriving in South Florida

RELATED LINK: Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Tampa as vaccine first arrived in Florida

It was a time of hope, when many thought the end of a painful and tragic era was drawing near.

RELATED LINK: Doctors ‘finally on the offense’ as Jackson Memorial receives nearly 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Since then, there’s been a delta-driven surge in cases and deaths last summer.

The majority of those who were in the hospital during that time were unvaccinated, health experts had said.

RELATED LINK: Experts say vaccine hesitancy to blame as COVID numbers rise again in Miami-Dade, Broward

This past Sunday marked a grim national milestone, as 800,000 COVID-related deaths have been confirmed — more than the statewide population of North Dakota.

In fact, federal data shows more people died of COVID in 2021 when vaccines were available than in 2020 when they were not.

RELATED LINK: US COVID death toll hits 800,000, a year into vaccine drive

Some health experts say vaccine hesitancy combined with a relaxing of nonpartisan case mitigation public health tools this year, to include wearing masks, played a role.

When the vaccine was first rolled out, the country’s death toll stood at about 300,000. It hit 600,000 in mid-June and 700,000 on Oct. 1.

Health experts lament that many of the deaths in the United States were especially heartbreaking because they were preventable by way of the vaccine, which became available in mid-December a year ago, and was thrown open to all adults by mid-April of this year.

About 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just over 60% of the population. That is well short of what scientists say is needed to keep the virus in check.

RELATED LINK: 3 unvaccinated Miami-Dade teachers, including ‘soul’ of Liberty City, die of COVID-19

“Almost all the people dying are now dying preventable deaths,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And that’s because they’re not immunized. And you know that, God, it’s a terrible tragedy.”

And now as omicron — a new variant — gains traction, experts recommend that those eligible for a booster shot secure one to ramp up their immunity and once again play a role in helping curb anticipated community spread.

“I think it is important to do as much as we can to stop the spread of the variant,” Salemi said.

Health officials at Jackson said they have not seen an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations post-Thanksgiving — a glimmer of good news as we look ahead again at a new year.

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