More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic, underscoring the perils of limiting public health measures as the Delta variant rips through the state.
This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now. The average for new known cases reached 23,314 a day on the weekend, 30 percent higher than the state’s previous peak in January, according to a New York Times database. Across the country, new deaths have climbed to more than 1,000 a day, on average.
And hospitalizations in Florida have almost tripled in the past month, according to federal data, stretching many hospitals to the breaking point. The surge prompted the mayor of Orlando to ask residents to conserve water to limit the strain on the city’s supply of liquid oxygen, which is needed both to purify drinking water and to treat Covid-19 patients.
Even as cases continue to surge, with more than 17,200 people hospitalized with the virus across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has held firm on banning vaccine and mask mandates. Several school districts have gone ahead with mask mandates anyway.
Overall, 52 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, but the figure is less than 30 percent in some of the state’s hardest-hit counties.
On Monday, dozens of doctors and hospital employees in Palm Beach County gathered for an early morning news conference to beseech the unvaccinated to get shots, emphasizing that the surge was overwhelming the health care system and destroying lives.
“We are exhausted,” said Dr. Rupesh Dharia, an internal medicine specialist. “Our patience and resources are running low.”
A growing proportion of the people inundating hospitals and dying in Florida now are coming from younger segments of the population, particularly those ages 40 to 59, which were less vulnerable in earlier waves of the pandemic. The Delta variant is spreading among younger people, many who thought they were healthy and did not get vaccinated.
Dr. Chirag Patel, the assistant chief medical officer of UF Health Jacksonville, a hospital system in Northeast Florida, said the patients hospitalized with the virus during this latest surge tended to be younger and had fewer other health issues, but were nearly all unvaccinated. Of those who have died, including patients ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s, more than 90 percent were not inoculated, Dr. Patel said.
“We’ve had more patients this time around that have passed away at a younger age with very few if any medical problems,” he said. “They simply come in with Covid, and they don’t make it out of the hospital.”
Two months ago, the number of Covid-19 patients admitted at the system’s two University of Florida hospitals in Jacksonville was down to 14. On Tuesday morning, 188 coronavirus patients were in the hospitals, including 56 in the intensive care units.
One of the hardest parts of his job, Dr. Patel said, is having to tell family members that their unvaccinated loved one had succumbed to the virus. “It’s just such a senseless and preventable way of ultimately dying,” he said.
Lisa Waananen, Alison Saldanha and Sarah Cahalan contributed reporting.