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Surge in Covid infections here continues trend

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of January 12, 2023)

The number of new COVID-19 infections climbed sharply for the second week locally, paralleling the 32 percent surge in cases statewide in the period ending Jan. 5. Meanwhile, a new mutation of the virus is gaining steam across North America.

In Indian River County, new cases of Covid reported to the health department jumped from 124 to 162 cases this past week, a hike of 36 percent.

Eleven people were newly hospitalized with Covid illness over the past week here, with Covid-positive patients using 2.6 percent of the staffed hospital beds countywide, the CDC reports.

“We have 10 COVID-positive patients, one of which is in critical care (not ventilated),” Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said Monday, reporting numbers consistent with the previous week’s hospitalizations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid Data Tracker,  Indian River County is still in the Low Covid Community Level category, but nearly all of the rest of the state of Florida has now advanced to the Medium or High Covid Community Level.

Florida’s new infections have been climbing steadily since Thanksgiving.

The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 illness remains relatively low, compared to the Winter 2021-22 surge, with the whole state of Florida reporting 18 deaths last week.   One person has died of Covid in Indian River County in the last four weeks.

The emerging Omicron strain of the virus that public health officials are currently watching is the XBB 1.5 subvariant, which accounts for nearly half the nation’s new infections, and possibly two-thirds of the infections in the hardest-hit Northeastern United States, where many of Florida’s snowbirds and tourists hail from.

The XBB 1.5 subvariant seems to have similar symptoms as previous Omicron variants, and it doesn’t seem to be more adept at causing serious illness, hospitalization or death. But as the number of new infections rise, increased hospitalizations typically follow in two to three weeks, with the number of deaths rising in the weeks to follow.

Other variants of concern may build steam as the rising number of infections provides more hosts for the virus to enter and morph into a more transmissible or more deadly strain. China is seeing firsthand what happens when COVID-19 is suddenly turned loose in a nation of 1.4 billion people who were previously locked down.

The result so far has overwhelmed the Chinese healthcare system with patients crowded into hallways waiting for care. Images have emerged showing the covered bodies of COVID-19 victims piling up, reminiscent of early 2020. 

Medical facilities locally that had dropped their mask requirements for entry are re-thinking and reversing that decision as the predicted winter surge in infections may be getting underway. Being extra cautious, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has held firm on its 2020 masking policy.

“Patients and visitors are still required to wear masks at all times when in a Cleveland Clinic facility,” Allen-Mitchell said.

There was some good news Monday in the Florida Department of Health’s “Flu Review” which showed the numbers of Influenza A 3H and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) declining statewide.