Florida Covid infections skyrocket as treatments remain scarce

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s new Covid-19 infections have more than quadrupled over the past week as the new Omicron variant spreads across the state while treatments remain in short supply.

The latest weekly rate of newly reported Covid-19 infections from the Florida Department of Health was 13.8 percent as of Thursday, the most recent figures available, which is double the 5.4 percent rate from Dec. 17. The state Department of Health also reported 125,201 new infections as of Thursday, which is a jump from the 29,519 new cases as of Dec. 17.

Officials at the Florida Department of Health said statewide hospitalization rates are lower for Omicron. DOH spokesperson Weesam Khoury said the agency is also continuing several other efforts to fight the spread of Covid.

“We continue to monitor the severity of illness from the Omicron variant. To date, the data indicate that the symptoms appear to be less severe than the delta variant,” Khoury wrote in an email. “Fortunately, early data appears to show a lower per capita hospitalization rate than prior variants.”

University of Florida Associate Professor Of Medicine Kartik Cherabuddi said there may not be enough monoclonal body cocktails to go around as the state experiences a jump in Omicron-related infections. Monoclonal therapy treatments such as Sotrovimab are scarce after cold-weather states saw a surge in Omicron infections over the past month.

A new antiviral medication that could also fight Omicron called Paxlovid was just approved by federal regulators last week. The Department of Health and Human Services allocated 2,580 doses of Sotrovimab to the state last week.

“We don’t have Sotrovimab and we don’t have Paxlovid — the two most effective therapies for Omicron,” Cherabuddi said. “We’ve been receiving a lot of calls from providers and patients but we just don’t have the medications.”

Florida Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo has accused U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra of actively preventing the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments to Florida and the U.S. Ladapo sent a letter to Beccera on Tuesday afternoon about a “sudden suspension” of monoclonal treatments to the state.

“This shortsightedness is especially evident given that the federal government effectively prohibited states from purchasing these monoclonal antibodies and serving their populations directly,” Ladapo wrote in the letter, which POLITICO obtained Tuesday night.

Cherabuddi said the number of infections are higher because more people are either making use of home test kits or diagnosing themselves. Omicron is also highly contagious, which could worsen an ongoing shortage of medical workers that was exasperated by the pandemic.

The number of Covid-related hospitalizations are also going up, although not enough to overwhelm hospitals statewide, but the spike in Omicron-driven infections is also expected to last another two weeks. Florida Hospital Association President Mary Mayhew said the roughly 3,000 people hospitalized with Covid as of Tuesday was not nearly the 17,000 patients at the height of the Delta surge, but staffing woes have gotten worse.

“Our biggest challenge as hospitalizations increase is the severity of our workforce shortage,” Mayhew said, later adding that Covid-sick staffers were also “exasperating the shortage.”

More than 70 percent of Floridians were vaccinated as of Friday. Cherabuddi said the tragedy of Omicron will be when the number of people killed by Covid-19 goes up as thousands remain unvaccinated.

“Even the fewer deaths that result from this are going to be tragic in some ways,” Cherabuddi said. “Why is that? Knowing everything we know, and knowing that this was going to happen.”

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