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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

CDC places about half of Florida's population at high risk for COVID transmission

Red and gray 3D model of COVID-19. Looks like a sphere with red trees on it.

Case counts are as high as they’ve been since mid-February, part of a national surge arriving ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, as the school year wraps up and Americans prepare for summer vacations.

Nine Florida counties — including the Tampa Bay and South Florida regions — are at high risk for COVID transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC update means about half of the state’s population is at a high level. Last week, it was at 29 percent and the previous nine weeks it was at zero, according to Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist with the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

The counties are: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, Sarasota, Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

The Florida numbers are part of a national surge arriving ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, as the school year wraps up and Americans prepare for summer vacations. As such, many people have returned to their pre-pandemic routines.

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Researchers blame a new variant now dominant in the United States that spreads faster than its omicron predecessors, is adept at escaping immunity and might possibly cause more serious disease.

Case counts are as high as they’ve been since mid-February, and those figures are likely a major undercount because of unreported positive home test results and asymptomatic infections.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion about these indicators this week because, one, they have been steadily increasing for quite a while now, and two, several Florida counties were wrong last time due to a ‘processing error.’ No such footnote this week,” Salemi says.

florida covid map 05.22.2022.jpg
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

At high level, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public and on public transportation, staying current on COVID vaccines and getting tested if showing symptoms. If you are at high risk for severe illness, consider taking additional precautions.

Florida has recorded more than 11,000 new cases of the coronavirus on three consecutive days for the first time since early February.

The CDC reported 12,073 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida Tuesday, 11,413 tested positive Wednesday, and 11,125 tested positive Thursday.

Over the past week, the state added 66,868 new cases, bringing the state total to 6,125,115.

The CDC also reports the COVID-related deaths of 74,466 people, an increase of 144 from last week.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday that 2,349 people are hospitalized in Florida with COVID-19, up 21 percent from a week ago.

The variant is a member of the omicron family, but it carries a mutation called delta that was a feature of the variant that was dominant in the middle of 2021. This appears to allow the virus to escape immunity from vaccines and prior infection, especially if someone was infected in the huge omicron wave that swept the world late last year and early this year.

The current numbers, however, remain significantly lower than early in the year, when the highly contagious omicron variant swept across the state.

Information from Health News Florida’s Julio Ochoa, Carl Lisciandrello, Stephanie Colombini, Mark Schreiner, and the Associated Press was used in this report.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.