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Record deaths, child cases in state

In Florida, there are more people dying of COVID-19 than ever before. There are also more children being infected than ever before.

Those two trends emerged from the latest weekly coronavirus data released by the state Friday as the fourth pandemic wave continues in the Sunshine State.

The state reported 1,727 deaths from Aug. 20 through Thursday, the most recent seven-day period of data released by the state. That is the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities reported in a single week since the start of the pandemic.

August deaths match the peak fatalities from the last wave of infections in January. And that number could continue to climb as new data rolls in, said University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi.

It’s impossible to tell how high deaths will climb, said Salemi, “but I would not at all be surprised if the highest average of the delta wave does get into the 220s or 230s or even higher.”

Record numbers of hospitalizations among people over 50 and climbing ICU patients, he

said, suggest the state will see high fatality rates in the weeks to come.

Florida added 151,749 coronavirus cases. Nearly one out of every three infections was suffered by those age 19 and under. While more young Floridians are being diagnosed with COVID-19, infections actually fell in every other age group.

Pediatric admissions are holding steady at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. But Dr. Joseph Perno, vice president of medical affairs, said the emergency room is still treating a high volume of children for COVID-19.

“It’s demoralizing,” he said. “We’re functioning at our peak volume.”

The state averaged about 21,700 infections and 250 deaths per day over that seven-day period. It’s the third week in a row that cases held steady at around 21,000 cases per day, but infections remained at over 50 percent higher than the previous wave in January.

Florida hospitals had 16,146 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Friday, the lowest level in two weeks. Hospitalizations had been climbing steadily since mid-June, before leveling in the past week.

“Fingers crossed, we may be seeing the beginning of a downward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations, but new cases remain near all-time highs, so it is much too early to declare victory,” said Florida Hospital Association president Mary Mayhew in an email to the

Tampa Bay Times However, hospitalizations are still about 70 percent higher than the last peak seen in July 2020.

The state distributed over 460,000 vaccinations last week, and nearly 280,000 more Floridians were fully inoculated against the coronavirus, 34 percent of whom were 19 or younger.

Pediatric cases, hospitalizations

More and more, COVID-19 is afflicting the state’s youngest residents. Ages 19 and under account for 32 percent of infections, or 48,215 cases.

Young Floridians also continue to lead all age groups in positivity rates: Ages 12-19 have a 23 percent positivity rate, the highest in the state. Children ages 12 and under have the second highest rate at 19 percent.

Florida hospitals had 215 pediatric cases with confirmed COVID-19 as of Friday, the highest number of child hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.

Five children under 16 have died from COVID-19 in Florida in the past four weeks.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg is treating both healthy children and those with underlying conditions for the coronavirus. “We have seen healthy children in our ICU,” said Perno, a pediatric emergency medicine physician.

And now that the school year has begun, the hospital is starting to see the impact. When there is not a pandemic, hospital admissions generally increase as class begins and kids spread germs and viruses.

“This year has been no different,” he said. “Right now, kids should be masked.”

The fight over whether schoolchildren should wear masks gripped the state this week. A Leon County judge on Friday overturned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning school districts from requiring masks.

DeSantis had threatened financial penalties to 10 districts, representing more than half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students, which had originally defied his order by requiring masks.

Hospitals filled and straining

Across Tampa Bay, local hospitals continue to see unprecedented hospitalizations.

As of Friday morning, just over 240 patients were being treated at Tampa General Hospital for the coronavirus. There were 109 patients being treated in the intensive care unit, up 21 percent from last week. The overwhelming majority of ICU patients are unvaccinated, the hospital said. The average age of COVID-19 patients in the ICU is 57. The average age of all unvaccinated patients is 55.

AdventHealth’s West Florida Division hospitals are seeing unvaccinated patients in their 20s and 30s, said Dr. Robin McGuinness. Baycare facilities have seen the number of COVID-19 patients stabilize, said chief operating officer Glenn Waters. Elective surgeries remain on pause and will not resume until there is a substantial reduction in COVID-19 admissions. Waters said everyone should be taking precautions as the fourth pandemic wave continues unabated.

“We’re encouraging folks to wear masks when they’re out in public,” he said.

Still, “staffing is stretched,” Waters said. And despite bringing in a significant number of travel nurses to help, after 18 months dealing with the pandemic, “the staff are tired.”

Contact Ian Hodgson at Follow @IanJHodgson. The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing. Contact Margo Snipe at 813-551-2653 or Follow @margoasnipe.

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