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Florida braces for possible surge as omicron spikes and COVID positivity rates balloon

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Abe Aboraya
The Florida Channel
Dr. Victor Herrera of AdventHealth said the delta surge was characterized as a surge among the unvaccinated, but omicron could be a surge among unvaccinated and the unboosted.

AdventHealth in Orlando has reactivated its COVID command center. Meantime, omicron has been detected in Tallahassee and the variant has become the dominant strain in Miami-Dade.

As the omicron variant spreads across the country and state, AdventHealth has reactivated its COVID-19 command center as the rate of positive test results spiked at its urgent care centers in Central Florida.

At Centra Care urgent care centers, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests has gone from 5.5 percent to more than 21 percent in the last few weeks. Dr. Victor Herrera, chief medical officer at AdventHealth Orlando, said.

AdventHealth has about 100 COVID-19 patients hospitalized – compared to the peak of 1,700 patients in August.

But the positivity rate is an indication that the number of hospitalized patients will grow.

“Our census is low for COVID-19 patients, but typically that positivity rate increases, it correlates with a two-week lag of starting to see an increase in hospitalizations,” Herrera said.

It’s hard to say if the positivity rate is increasing at such a large rate elsewhere in the state because Florida only releases COVID-19 data weekly. It’s most recent report, which covers Dec. 10-16, shows the positivity rate doubling from 2.6 percent to 5.4 percent. Statewide, about 1,600 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to federal data, and that figure is increasing.

However, genomic surveillance data shows omicron has overtaken the delta variant in Miami-Dade County as the dominant strain in a few weeks.

The data showed omicron grew from a tiny fraction of hundreds of samples taken the first week of December to nearly three of every four samples taken last week. Miami-Dade's positivity rate is at 10% after falling to 1% last month.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says it's “absolutely astonishing" how contagious omicron is. About 76 percent of 504 COVID-19 samples taken Dec. 14-15 were the omicron variant. That compares to to 64 percent of 378 samples collected Dec. 10-13, and 1.3 percent of the 373 samples collected Dec. 1-5.

In Leon County, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare reported that six cases of the omicron variant were detected in rapid COVID tests processed in December, officially confirming the presence of the variant.

"While we do not yet know whether the omicron variant will lead to an increase in hospitalizations in our community, TMH is equipped to care for these patients just as we have with other variants throughout the pandemic," Stephanie Derzypolski, the system's vice president and chief communications cfficer said in a statement.

Officials last week previously detected the variant in Tampa, St. Lucie County and Miami-Dade.

Herrera, of AdventHealth, said the delta surge was characterized as being among the unvaccinated, but omicron could be a surge among unvaccinated and the unboosted.

He said he expects the CDC will change the definition of fully vaccinated to include getting a booster soon.

“What we really want to emphasize is that if you’ve already had your first dose, your second dose, a lot of people are thinking, ‘Well, I’ve already got good protection,'” Herrera said. “Well the third dose we’ve learned is not a plus, it’s not a bonus. You really need that third dose as well.”

Justin Senior with Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida said there’s another factor looming: People from New York and the Midwest visiting Florida for the holidays.

“Last year at this time, there were very large spikes in New York and the Upper Midwest,” Senior said. “That population tends to feed into Florida this time a year. And what we saw was what I would describe as kind of a trailing bump in Florida that came in a few weeks after theirs that was probably associated with visitation. And and I think that that’s likely to occur again this year.”

Information from the Associated Press and WFSU was used in this report.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.