TAMPA, Fla. - More than 62,200 Floridians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to the Department of Health.
The new report issued Thursday had the death count at 62,220, up from 62,026 the week before. Reporting can be delayed, so it isn’t clear as to when the extra 194 deaths happened. Regardless, the increase is raising eyebrows in the medical community as concerns grow with the omicron variant of the virus.
Compared to the highly infectious delta variant, early studies show the omicron variant is more contagious, but causes less severe symptoms when infected. Health experts encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster when eligible.
"If you get boosted, you’re going to have maybe four to five days before your antibodies are going to be where you want them to be, so it’s not too late to get boosted, it’s a good time to get out there and get that done now," said Dr. Tom Unnasch, a professor and infectious disease researcher from the University of South Florida.
Dr. Unnasch has been forecasting COVID-19 trends in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties since the start of the pandemic. He says new COVID-19 infection rates started dropping significantly after the Delta variant peaked in August. He says infection rates stayed stable until the week after Thanksgiving at about 1,500 to 2,000 cases per day across the state.
"According to calculations I did, the case numbers are doubling about every one-and-a-half days here in the state of Florida," Unnasch said.
Unnash predicts Florida will have approximately 20,000 COVID-19 cases per day by next week.
However, there is some promising news for people who are vaccinated and boosted.
"The studies that have come out now say that the t-cells, which are the second line of defense, still work very well against the omicron variant, and what that means is that you’re not really going to be able to fight off the infection, you’re going to get infected, and you’re probably going to get some cold symptoms for a few days, and then the t-cells are going to kick in and clear the infection out, you’re never going to get really, really sick," said Unnasch.
He says people who are boosted and get infected will likely be asymptomatic and contagious for 48 hours or less. Unnasch added that even though people who are fully vaccinated or boosted can still be infected, the symptoms will likely be minor or unnoticeable.