The skyrocketing COVID-19 surge in Florida is shattering records and ravaging the stateâ€™s younger population.
Florida has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks because of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which has led to a major increase in state hospitalizations. By next week, 68% of hospitals are expected to reach a critical staffing shortage, according to an Aug. 9 surveyÂ by the Florida Hospital Association.
The majority of Florida’s new cases are among individuals between the ages of 20 and 39, who remain among the least vaccinated age groups in the state.
Hospital officials are also seeing an influx of young, healthy adults filling their wards across the state, many requiring oxygen. In the past week in Florida, 36% of the deaths occurred in the under-65 population, compared with 17% in the same week last year when the state was experiencing a similar COVID surge.
Kristen McMullen, a 30-year-old woman from West Melbourne, Florida, died earlier this monthÂ â€”Â a week after giving birth to her daughter via emergency C-section.
Statewide, Florida set a record last week, reporting 151,415 new COVID-19 cases, according to the state health department. The state reported an all-time high of 24,869 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker.
Florida is the national leader in COVID-19 deaths, averaging more than 150 a day in the past week. Health officials say the number of deaths jumped significantly from 600, reported in the previous week, to more than 1,000 reported this week. New deaths tallied by the state health department raise the total coronavirus death toll to 40,766.
â€œEach day the question is how can this possibly get worse. Worster. Worstest. And it does,â€ physician Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted.
Also in the news:
â–ºAs the highly contagious delta variant causesÂ pediatric cases of COVID-19Â to skyrocket, experts agree:Â adults and older children should be vaccinated andÂ everyone should wear masksÂ to keep kids and teachers safer at in-person school.
â–º About 2.7 million people with severely weakened immune systems should be able to receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC decided Friday afternoon.Â The Food and Drug Administration hadÂ decided late ThursdayÂ to allow extra shots for people who are immunocompromised, but left it up to theÂ CDC to define exactly who should get the additional doses.
â–ºTexas is now bringing in 2,500 nurses from across the U.S. to battle the latest surge of COVID-19.
â–º A Southeast Georgia county has suspendedÂ in-person classes and remote instruction for all its ten schools until Sept. 7, after hundreds of students and employees were exposed to COVID-19 during the first two weeks of classes.
â–ºAs more than 90% of counties in the U.S. experience high or substantial transmission of COVID-19,Â face masks are becoming harder to find across the country, including in some COVID hot spots.
â–ºPeople who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 may end up paying the cost, asÂ employers mandate vaccination and insurance companies look at ways toÂ make the unvaccinatedÂ shoulder a larger share of their medical bills.
â–ºMemphis basketball assistant coach Larry Brown said Friday that he contracted the delta variant of COVID-19Â following his attendance of theÂ 2021 Nike EYBLÂ Peach Jam BasketballÂ Tournament last month.
â–ºSince July 1, there’s been a 700% increase in the week-over-week average of COVID-19 infections in the United States.Â The nation was at a low point in new cases in late June, with an average of about 10,000 a day. Today the average is closer to 125,000 a day.
📈Â Today’s numbers:Â The U.S.Â has had more than 36.6Â millionÂ confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 621,000Â deaths,Â accordingÂ toÂ Johns Hopkins UniversityÂ data.Â The global totals: More than 206.5Â million cases and 4.3Â million deaths. More than 167.6Â million AmericansÂ â€” 50.5% of the population â€”Â have been fully vaccinated,Â according toÂ theÂ CDC.
📘 What we’re reading:Â Different beliefsÂ about theÂ vaccine haveÂ causedÂ a lot of tensionÂ amongÂ families, friendsÂ and colleagues.Â So, whatÂ shouldÂ weÂ do ifÂ weÂ donâ€™t agree with someoneâ€™sÂ choice toÂ notÂ get vaccinated?Â Â Read the full story.
Keep refreshing this page forÂ the latest news. Want more?Â Sign up forÂ USA TODAY’s Coronavirus WatchÂ newsletterÂ to receive updates directly to your inbox andÂ join our Facebook group.
Education Department urges Texas, Florida to reverse school mask bans
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is weighing in on the escalating tension between state governors and local authorities overÂ whether universal masking mandates should be implemented in schools.
The secretary sent letters Friday urging Republican governors in Florida and Texas to reverse their rulings banning mandates in schools and said the Department of Education stands with local leaders and school administrators who have adopted masking requirements in defiance of governors.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office this week threatened the salaries of local school officials who proceed with mask mandatesÂ after DeSantis last month prohibitedÂ county school boards from imposing masking requirements on students. Broward,Â Duval, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach counties have announced mask mandates anyway.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools, and some districts have also said they would defy this order. Cardona wrote a similar message of support for those school leaders.
Some may be better off canceling plans during COVID-19 surge, experts say
Health experts say travel risks vary from person to person, but it may be time for certain travelers â€“ especially those who are unvaccinated or susceptible to severe illness from the virusÂ â€“ to postpone their trips.Â
Purvi Parikh, an immunologist who has worked as an investigator for some of the COVID-19 vaccine trials, advises vaccines for travelersÂ since the majorityÂ of the recent COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizationsÂ are among unvaccinated people. She also suggests checking local guidance andÂ infection ratesÂ before booking a flight.
â€“ Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY
Why some unvaccinated Americans are changing their tune and how that could help curb latest COVID surge
As more and more unvaccinated people lose loved ones to COVID-19,Â a chorus of regrets has started to resonate. Experts say those voices couldÂ persuade fence-sitters to get vaccinatedÂ â€“Â a crucial step towardÂ ending the pandemic.Â
The human mind has reality constraints thatÂ makeÂ it difficult to grasp theÂ severity of a situation before personally experiencing it, New York University Psychology ProfessorÂ Jay Van Bavel told USA TODAY.Â Once you’re in a hospital bed, you can no longer deny the virus, he said.
Reasons vary among those whoÂ won’t get jabs:Â concerns about side effects and long-term consequences;Â misconceptions about the vaccine such asÂ the false claim that the shotsÂ will impact fertility; a failure to grasp how deadly the virus can be. And others are awaitingÂ full FDA approval, which could come as early as this month.Â Â
Van Bavel saidÂ words of warning from thoseÂ formerly opposed to vaccinesÂ are an effective tool to persuade those who areÂ hesitant orÂ opposed.Â Â
â€œPersonal stories are one of those things that can cut across partisan divides,â€Â unlike statistics and scientific data, heÂ said. Read more.
â€“ Kate Mabus, USA TODAY
States that had a grip on COVID-19 now seeing a crush of cases
The COVID-19 surge that’s sending hospitalizations to all-time highs in parts of the South is also clobbering states like Hawaii and Oregon that were once seen as pandemic success stories.
After months in which they kept cases and hospitalizations at manageable levels, they are watching progress slip away as record numbers of patients overwhelm bone-tired health care workers.
Oregon â€” like Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana in recent days â€” has more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic. Hawaii is about to reach that mark, too.
This, despite both states having vaccination levels higher than the national average as of last week. On its worst day in 2020, Hawaii had 291 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus. Officials expect to hit 300 by the end of this week.
“Our doctors and nurses are exhausted and rightfully frustrated because this crisis is avoidable,”Â said David Zonies, associate chief medical officer at Portlandâ€™s Oregon Health & Science University. “It is like watching a train wreck coming and knowing that thereâ€™s an opportunity to switch tracks, yet we feel helpless while we watch unnecessary loss of life.â€
â€“ Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Andrew Selsky; The Associated Press
â€˜Disastrous combinationâ€™: Wildfires linked to thousands of COVID cases, study says
Last yearâ€™s historic wildfire season also made the pandemic worse, according to a new study.
Fine particulate air pollution has been previously linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and researchers have now found connections between poor air quality from wildfire smoke and U.S. COVID data, according to a release from Harvard University.
The study found that an increase in air pollution led to a rise in cases and deaths over the course of weeks. In some of the hardest-hit counties, the study blamed air pollution for cases and deaths that increased by more than 50%.
The study, published by Science Advances on Friday, estimates that in total, nearly 20,000 cases and 750 deaths were linked with the poor air quality. The research focused on California, Oregon and Washington, where last yearâ€™s worst fires burned.
â€œIn this study we are providing evidence that climate change â€”Â which increases the frequency and the intensity of wildfires â€“ and the pandemic are a disastrous combination,â€ the release quotes Francesca Dominici, the senior author of the study.
â€“ Joel Shannon, USA TODAY
US border officials are seizing fake COVID vaccine cards every day
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials said Friday they are intercepting the import of counterfeit CDC vaccine record cards every single day.
At the port of Memphis, officials have seized at least 121Â shipments of over 3,000 of these counterfeit cards, which mostly come from China and may contain spelling and grammar errors, the department said Friday.
â€œThese vaccinations are free and available everywhere,â€ said Memphis Area Port Director Michael Neipert in a statement. â€œIf you do not wish to receive a vaccine, that is your decision. But donâ€™t order a counterfeit, waste my officers’Â time, break the law, and misrepresent yourself.â€
The department said the shipments are destined all over the U.S. It also emphasized that according to the FBI, the buying, selling or use of counterfeit vaccine documents is a federal crime.
The seizures come as college campuses are raising concerns about students using fake vaccine cards amid vaccine mandates for the fall term. Some institutions have said expulsion is on the table for students who are caught using the counterfeits.
Latter-day Saints leaders urge membersÂ to get COVIDÂ vaccine, wear masks
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints again urged its 16 million-plus members to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and wearing a face mask in public settings.
In a statement this week, the latest in a series of encouragements to its members, church leaders said, “We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”
Utah, where the church is based, is experiencing substantial or high levels of COVID transmission in nearly every county.
Contributing: The Associated Press;Â The Tallahassee Democrat; Liz Freeman, Naples Daily News; Sara-Megan Walsh, The Ledger