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Florida's latest COVID-19 surge 'nothing like' July 2020, doctor says

'We are not at the peak,' Dr. Jason Salemi says
Posted at 9:58 AM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 09:58:37-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — A new month is bringing new COVID-19 records for Florida. That's despite the governor continuing to call the latest surge a "seasonal" swing.

Over the weekend, Florida eclipsed its highest daily case total. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 21,683 positive tests Saturday. The state has also surpassed its peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations. The Florida Hospital Association reported a new high mark of 10,389 as of Monday afternoon. The number was 10,179 in July 2020.

Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew noted Florida had reached that new record in about half the time as the previous.

"Last year, in 2020, it took us 60 days to go from 2,000 cases to 10,000," Mayhew said. "It has taken us 27 days to break our 2020 peak."

While epidemiologists agree summer is having an impact on the latest rise in Florida's cases, University of South Florida professor Dr. Jason Salemi said the surge is "nothing like" 2020. He expected things would get worse before they got better.

"We are not at the peak," Salemi said. "We're going to see a continued worsening and the numbers for at least a couple of weeks before the peak comes."

Salemi said the COVID-19 equation had changed with the more infectious delta variant. It has started infecting and hospitalizing younger people than before. Even those with shots can spread it more easily.

Salemi said Florida could likely curb its outbreak faster by getting more vaccinated and adhering to the latest CDC guidance. That meant a return to masking at indoor public spaces, hand washing and social distancing.

"This should be, I'm hoping, one of the last times that we go through a big wave like this," he said. "The question is how many people are we going to take actions to prevent people from being hospitalized and dying."

To ease the burden for health providers, the hospital association said it was working with Florida officials to create new COVID-19 emergency rules. Mayhew said, if approved, facilities might be able to waive state requirements and bring in licensed out-of-state health workers to bolster staffing.

The Florida Department of Health said in a statement that it didn't have the authority to make those changes but was trying to speed up other avenues.

"The Department of Health (DOH) continues to actively respond to COVID-19," communications director Weesam Khoury said. "While we don't have the authority to issue this, the Department works diligently to ensure the licensing process is expedited and as efficient as possible to support health care facilities."

Khoury's statement likely means it will take an executive order from the governor to create any new COVID-19 rules. Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, has resisted issuing a new emergency order, despite the case rise. His staff recently said he had no plans to change course.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering