PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Omicron variant surge impacting Southwest Florida

Yuri Samoilov via Flickr creative commons

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a new record high number of new COVID-19 cases in Florida on Dec. 31 with more than 75,900 new infections. The AP reports that this breaks the record set Dec. 30 when more than 58,000 new cases were reported in the Sunshine State amid the ongoing surge driven by the Omicron variant.

Florida's seven-day average daily number of new infections now stands at about 42,600 cases, which is twice as high as it was at the peak of the surge this past summer driven by the Delta variant.

The federal government reports that Florida hospitals were treating about 4,000 COVID-19 patients as of Dec. 30.

The Omicron surge prompted Lee Health, last week, to resume its weekday reporting of COVID-19 numbers. Lee Health reported a 55% increase in COVID hospitalizations last week and health system officials urge people to get their booster vaccine dose.

As of Jan. 3, Lee Health reported treating 154 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals including five pediatric coronavirus patients at Golisano Children’s Hospital. That’s up from 93 hospitalized COVID-19 patients last Friday. Lee Health hasn’t had more than 150 hospitalized coronavirus patients since Sept. 30.

The health system reported seeing 1,088 patients in its emergency departments Jan. 2, compared to an average of about 900 patients per day before the Omicron variant.

The News-Press reports, last Thursday NCH Healthcare System reported treating 38 COVID patients in its hospitals, which is more than double the 17 coronavirus patients NCH was treating two days prior.

Lee Health also reports that the Omicron surge in new infections has exhausted the health system’s supply of monoclonal antibody treatments. In a statement, Jan. 3, Lee Health writes, “With the current scarcity of treatments, it is even more important to know how to care for yourself at home if you are infected by the coronavirus. You should stay in one room as much as possible and not share a bathroom with anyone else in your home. It is also important to get rest and stay hydrated, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help you feel better.”

Meanwhile, the CDC now advises people to avoid cruises, regardless of vaccination status. The new guidance follows a number of COVID-19 outbreaks aboard ships, including several based out of South Florida, driven by the ongoing surge fueled by the Omicron variant.

The CDC had more than 90 cruise ships under investigation or observation as of last week due to onboard outbreaks.

Officials with the Cruise Lines International Association are expressing disappointment with the CDC's new recommendation, saying the industry is being singled out despite following stricter health protocols than other forms of travel.

The ongoing Omicron surge is prompting some school districts in Florida to reinstate some mask requirements. The Miami-Dade School District rolled out a new set of rules that takes effect Jan. 3 when students return from the holiday break.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made the announcement last Thursday.

“All adults entering Miami-Dade Public Schools facilities shall be wearing masks. Masks will be mandatory for all adults in Miami-Dade Public Schools facilities,” said Carvalho.

That mandate will apply to parents visiting schools as well as bus drivers who transport students.

The superintendent said the district is expecting a shortage of bus drivers this week due to the surge in cases, which could affect bus pick-ups.

Carvalho said the surge in cases is affecting school sports.

“We will be suspending, postponing and rescheduling any athletic activities that were scheduled to take place January third, fourth or fifth.”

Meanwhile in neighboring Broward County, the school board is making mask wearing mandatory for visitors and vendors, starting Jan. 3. Students and staff are not required to wear masks, but are strongly encouraged to do so.

A new law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in November prohibits school districts from imposing mask mandates on students.

The Lee County School District is also implementing new pandemic safety protocols that take effect this week including the cancellation of field trips planned for January and barring visitors from school campuses during school hours. A full list of “High Community Transmission” phase protocols can be found here.