Seniors, children hardest hit as COVID-19 cases rise nearly 40% in Hillsborough County

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are rising again, repeating a familiar pandemic trend that is shifting toward seniors and children in Hillsborough County and across Florida.

Health experts said Hillsborough County is one of nine Florida counties with the highest infection rate. Public health scientists who track the virus said Florida’s daily cases went up 26% over the last month.

USF Health professor of epidemiology Jason Salemi says the increases are even higher in Hillsborough County, where cases have increased 37% in the past four weeks.

And the increase isn't due to increased testing.

LINK: COVID-19 vaccine distribution information in Tampa Bay area counties

"Even though we’re approaching pretty high levels of vaccination, there’s still almost 1 million seniors in the state who have yet to receive one dose of the vaccine," said Salemi. "So there’s still plenty of vulnerable individuals in our communities, and that virus is just devilishly good at finding those people and infecting them."

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More infections also mean more people needing hospitalization. And in Hillsborough County, Salemi says the virus found its way into more children, too.

"The most prominent increases in the past two weeks, both statewide and even in Hillsborough County, has been in our pediatric population," he explained. "Even though they tend to be at the lowest absolute risk of severe illness or death, they can get very sick."

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A spokesperson with AdventHealth Tampa said they have seen a slight increase in children coming in with COVID-19 infections.

Still, health experts say the vaccine has stemmed the surge among older people. The shot protects against severe illness and death, so public health experts said getting vaccinated is still the best way to reverse the trends.

6,684 new Florida coronavirus cases reported Thursday; 80 new deaths

The Florida Department of Health says the number of known cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 6,684 Thursday. According to the state's daily update, the total number of cases in Florida since the pandemic began is now 2,191,038.

"If we are able to continue to get seniors and everyone who is of vaccine-eligible age to come out and get vaccinated, I’m very confident that we’ll start to see those numbers go back down," said Salemi.