Just when you thought COVID was over: Cases are on the rise
The COVID-19 virus is rebounding in Northeast Florida, though the cases seem less severe, according to local health officials.
The number of new cases in Duval County has risen by 32% in past the month — and by more in other areas, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.
But while the numbers are up, some hospital officials say they have not seen more people hospitalized.
The increase is "slowly creeping up" as expected, said Shalika Katugaha, infectious diseases system director at Baptist Health's six regional facilities.
"This is not surprising," Katugaha said Friday. "Usually there are surges in August and September when the weather changes. So certainly the rest of the country sometimes goes first, and then Florida follows. But we always have what we call this fall surge, and so right now we are building up to this fall surge."
Every county in Northeast Florida showed a rising number of new cases for the week of July 14-20:
- Baker County: 11 cases, compared with two from June 16-22, a month earlier.
- Clay County: 79 cases, up from 38.
- Duval County: 405 cases, up from 307.
- Nassau County: 31 cases, up from 19.
- Putnam County: 50 cases, up from seven.
- St. Johns County: 96 cases, up from 57.
The number of new cases in Florida increased by 51% during the same period, to 9,942, the Department of Health showed. Other parts of the country are seeing a similar trend. Steady declines in case numbers have come to an end, NPR reported.
"After roughly six, seven months of steady declines, things are starting to tick back up again," Brendan Jackson, COVID-19 incident manager for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR. "We've seen the early indicators go up for the past several weeks. And just this week, for the first time in a long time, we've seen hospitalizations tick up as well. This could be the start of a late summer wave."
Katugaha, at Baptist Health, hopes the summer wave will be "hopefully much less" than in the past, with no return to pandemic restrictions because so many people have immunities built up.
Deaths from COVID-19 are still falling nationally, to the lowest level since the CDC started tracking them, Jackson said. And in Florida, Department of Health statistics show 26 deaths during the week of July 14 to 20, compared with 29 a month earlier.
Baptist Health's hospitals in Jacksonville, Nassau and Clay counties are not seeing a spike in COVID-19 patients, Katugaha said.
"Today we have seven cases," she said Friday. "But for the past month, we have had less than 10 cases, so we have not really felt the rise yet. But this is showing that in this state, we will feel the rise and it's a very common fall rise in respiratory viruses, which include COVID, flu and RSV, which we will see."
No new variant of the virus has emerged, Katugaha said, although one could develop this fall. Instead, it is probably just the weather that is driving up COVID-19, she said.
"In colder climates, it's because everybody stays in," Katugaha said. "Here, it could be because we are more staying in because of the heat. It is when people are in crowded conditions or together more, and certainly our weather could be driving that. In the next few weeks, it will also be when school starts. ... We will see another rise."
Most people got the updated Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when they came out last fall, but their effectiveness is beginning to wear off, Katugaha said. And while there has been a visible decline in people getting the vaccine, as seen in state Health Department statistics, she said no one is recommending people get another shot right now.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve a new vaccine this fall to prepare for the expected winter surge in cases, Katugaha said. She recommends everyone get that this fall along with the flu vaccine, while older folks should also get the RSV vaccine — to combat Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a lower respiratory infection.
As always, prevention is everything, Katugaha said: Get the vaccine when it comes out. Wear a mask if you feel sick or just stay home. And wash those hands well.