ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The mayor of the county that hosts Florida’s theme park mecca said Monday that “we are now in crisis mode” when it comes to dealing with soaring numbers of COVID-19 infections.
Florida accounted for a fifth of the nation’s new infections last week, more than any other state, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now the home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort is seeing about 1,000 new cases a day, said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
“A thousand a day is extraordinary,” Demings said at a news conference. “We are now in crisis mode … We as a community need to work together to slow this rate.”
The positivity rate for the virus in the county of 1.4 million residents has tripled to 14% from about 4.3% a month ago. More than 61% of county residents have had at least one vaccination shot, and the mayor urged unvaccinated residents to get theirs as soon as possible.
Demings said central Florida hospitals are approaching capacity. A medical officer at one of the state’s largest health systems said its number of COVID-19 patients is nearing an all-time high: 862, approaching the peak of 900 hospitalized patients with the virus in January.
“This is clearly, as has been previously described, a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Victor Herrera, chief medical officer with AdventHealth Orlando.
The hospital system went into a “code red” status this week, postponing elective surgeries to free up capacity for COVID-19 patients.
Of particular concern is a significant increase in unvaccinated pregnant women needing hospitalization for the virus, said Herrera, who urged pregnant women to talk to their doctors and consider getting the vaccine.
“Some of them are very sick and intubated,” Herrera said.
The median age of Orange County patients who have died from COVID-19 is 59 and trending younger, with almost all the new infections in unvaccinated people, said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
A silver lining is that the county’s death rate from the virus is the lowest it has been in a year, an indication of how effective the vaccines are, Pino said.
More than 73,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in Florida over the previous week, according to the state health department, nearly seven times the 12,000 reported a month ago. Florida’s numbers had been falling since mid-January when 100,000 new cases per week were reported. Florida had 341 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, second only to Louisiana, according to CDC data.
Despite this latest surge, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will not return to government mandates. In May, the Republican barred municipalities from imposing their own and banned businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. He said it is up to individuals on how they deal with the pandemic.
Demings, a Democrat, said he hasn’t ruled out reintroducing masking rules for the county, as other jurisdictions have done already. He faulted state officials for not taking more proactive measures to slow infections.
“Now is the time we should see some adjustments being made because the virus is quickly spreading,” Demings said. “We can’t do the same things we’ve been doing and expect different results.”