As the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Florida enters Phase 2, the number of cases in the state continues to surge.
The Florida Department of Health’s daily report issued on Dec. 29th, reveals that 22.75 percent of the tests recorded on Dec. 28th were positive, bringing the total number of cases in Florida to 1,292,252 since March.
Alachua County’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard reported the same trend. On Dec. 28th the daily positivity rate was reported at 40.93 percent with a 14-day average positivity rate of 8.3 percent.
Despite warnings from federal and local health officials about congregating over the holidays, family get-togethers increased over Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported the highest level of travel since March. More than 1 million travelers entered TSA checkpoints on Nov. 25th, Nov. 29th, Dec. 18-20, Dec. 23, and Dec. 26-28.
Now, experts including Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci are warning of a “post-seasonal” surge as 2021 approaches.
Other than mitigation of the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face masks, keeping socially distant, and frequent hand washing, the vaccination effort is the latest weapon in the pandemic fight. Since the debut of the COVID-19 vaccine in Alachua County on Dec. 14th, more than 5,000 health care workers and residents have received their first dose.
According to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) report released two weeks after the vaccine arrived in Florida, health care workers and vulnerable citizens received 146,160 first vaccinations between Dec. 14 to Dec. 29.
On Dec. 28th, the Alachua County Department of Health rolled out an invitation for residents 65 and older to start requesting vaccination appointments.
Alachua County Health Department Director Paul Myers outlined the phase distribution strategy for the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners as follows:
1. Healthcare workers and first responders
2. High risk individuals and those in congregate settings such as long-term care facilities
3. Essential workers and individuals with underlying health conditions
4. Workers in general settings, children, and young adults
5. Remaining unvaccinated population
According to Myers, once the Phase 1 population is saturated with the vaccine, the effort moves on to the second phase.
The FDOH report shows a rapid increase in vaccines starting with just 28 recipients in Florida on the first day (Dec. 14th) up to 26,629 vaccinations administered on Dec. 23rd. The final day of the two-week report shows 17,117 vaccinations administered.
The report itemizes how many vaccines each of the 67 counties have recorded as of Dec. 28th.
Alachua County reported 5,674 vaccinations. Neighboring counties are as follows: Levy County: 126, Marion County: 1,001, Gilchrist County: 52, Columbia County: 89 and Dixie County: 11.
Dade and Broward counties lead the state in doses administered with 17,634 and 14,323, respectively.
Now, attention is turning the surge in cases that are increasing at a rapid rate according to the latest FDOH data.
The Dec. 29th FDOH COVID-19 update shows an increase in daily COVID-19 cases in Florida from 5,939 on Dec. 25 to 7,057 on Dec. 26th, 8,023 on Dec. 27th and 11,887 on Dec. 28th.
As cases rise, deaths reported in Florida continue to decline. On Dec. 5th, Florida had 108 COVID-19 related deaths. By Dec. 28th, that number was 6 despite an increase in daily positive cases.
But the number of deaths diminishing doesn’t account for the long-term suffering from COVID-19 survivors throughout the state and beyond. Health officials call them “long haulers.”
Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale announced on Oct. 28th that the CDC had awarded it $4 million to study people left with lingering symptoms during their recovery from COVID-19.
“With our long-standing research into ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we’ve been selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin researching these symptoms in COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Nancy Klimas of the Institute for Neuro Immune Research.
“Because the symptoms are so similar – joint and muscle pain, severe fatigue and memory and cognitive issues – to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, NSU is uniquely positioned to study this emerging development in the pandemic.”
The burden that COVID-19 has put on hospitals doesn’t end with the initial treatment when the patient tests positive. Months and almost a year later, patients continue to need treatment ranging from oxygen therapy up to double-lung transplants.
According to UF Health anesthesiologist Dr. Bruce Spiess, UF Health Shands has successfully completed nine double-lung transplants on COVID-19 survivors who had severe lung damage as a result of battling the virus.
The dramatic increase in the state positivity rate that has occurred in just the past few days is a potential signifier that the long-hauler population will continue to grow significantly. Between Dec. 25th (8 percent) and Dec. 28th (22.75 percent), the positivity rate spiked 14.75 percentage points.
UF Health has yet to establish a formal COVID-19 long-haulers research program, but online forums and discussion groups are filling that gap.
So far, Alachua County has had 15,574 reported COVID-19 cases, 742 hospitalizations and 128 deaths as reported by FDOH as of Dec. 29th.
COVID-19 Long-Haulers Discussion Group on Facebook has more than 10,000 members and Survivor Corps has 136,000 members who share symptoms and their stories of struggle with the damage COVID-19 has done to their bodies and minds.
According to the Survivor Corps Facebook group description, “Survivor Corps is a not for profit, grassroots movement educating and mobilizing COVID-19 survivors and connecting them with the medical, scientific and academic research community, to help stem the tide of this pandemic and assist in the national recovery.”
The group has comments organized by topics around specific symptoms, antibody, news and polls. It is easy to search and provides testimony from long haulers about their experience with what works and doesn’t work in living with the long-term impact of surviving COVID-19.
As of Dec. 30th, the CDC reports almost 20 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. with 341,801 deaths. The CDC reports 8,681,767 COVID-19 survivors as recovered, but that classification simply means a person has tested negative for the coronavirus twice at least 24 hours apart. The definition does not mean that the COVID-19 survivors are done experiencing health issues ranging from rashes, to numb limbs to headaches, intermittent fever, fertility issues, burning eyes, and brain fog.
Florida continues to point to the vaccine as a way out of the pandemic. On Dec. 29th, the Florida Division of Emergency Management released its weekly COVID-19 Vaccine Update via Twitter.
According to the report, 127,100 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed to county health departments (93,900 doses) and 54 hospitals (33,200 doses). And 118,950 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed as second doses to the original five pilot hospitals and to long-term care facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties.
Meanwhile, Alachua County continues to take appointment requests from residents 65 and older and is making plans to enter Phase 3 of the vaccination strategy which will include essential workers and individuals with underlying health conditions.
If you are 65 and older and want to register to receive the first of two doses of the vaccine click here to register or, individuals can call (352) 334-8810, 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week to register to receive the vaccine.