Florida Delta Wave Cases Plunge, Leaving Record Deaths in Its Wake

Despite most Floridians being vaccinated, the delta wave was by far the deadliest, coming as many shed masks and sought return to normalcy.

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The delta wave of COVID-19 appears now to be done with Florida, which has the lowest infection rate over the last week among all states in the union.

But behind the case numbers that some are celebrating, the virus left a wave of death like none ever to hit Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been traveling the state spreading the good COVID news, telling a group Wednesday, "We have one of COVID lowest infection rates in the country and maybe the lowest."

True enough.

But the expected decline in cases comes after Florida's deadliest wave, one that hit the younger harder than ever.

"The fact we had record numbers of hospitalizations, record numbers of deaths, even in younger populations -- that was just so astonishing to me, it showed you just how bad the delta wave was," said Dr. Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida professor whose website tracks the virus in great detail.

So how deadly was delta?

Remember summer 2020, when no one was vaccinated and many still wore masks and avoided crowded indoor gatherings? From June 15, 2020, through Oct. 7, 2020, 13,798 Floridians died in that wave, an average of 120 a day.

Deaths started climbing again on Nov. 3, leading to a longer-term winter wave that would kill 16,296 lives before ending April 1, 2021. On average, 109 died on each of those days in Florida.

But neither wave compares to the one that began June 29, 2021. Since then, 21,224 deaths have been reported in Florida, according to the CDC data used for all these calculations. That's 173 deaths per day so far, and the numbers continue to increase as deaths from days and weeks ago are confirmed and added to the toll.

"The number of people dying daily at the peak of our delta surge was over 380 (385) on September 1," said Salemi. "Our previous peak before that was 228 per day in the summer surge of 2020" for the week ending August 5. The seven-day average for daily deaths during the winter wave peaked at 200 per day on Jan. 18.

So far, the delta wave has killed on average 44 percent more people per day than the summer 2020 wave and 59 percent more per day than during the winter wave.

"So it caused that much damage when we had a significant proportion of our population who had immunity either from getting the vaccine or immunity from prior infection," Salemi said.

Vaccines only became available in the midst of the winter wave. When its death rate peaked, about 7 percent of Floridians aged 12 and over had at least one shot, increasing to 33 percent by the end of that wave.

That vaccination rate was 58 percent of those ages 12 and up when the delta death surge began, 69 percent when it peaked and stands now at 73 percent.

Noting almost all of those who die from COVID are not vaccinated or are immunocompromised, Salemi said the death toll didn't have to be this bad.

"An overwhelming majority of those deaths and hospitalizations could have been prevented through a combination of improved ability to get shots in arms, as well as those other mitigation strategies," such as mask wearing and avoiding crowded indoor areas, he said.

"That was absolutely part of what contributed to how bad the delta surge got in many areas of the United States," Salemi said, citing "a generally relaxed attitude toward what we can do to block transmission."

Salemi calls it "good old COVID fatigue, this sense we're kind of through this, we don’t have to worry about all the precautions we were taking. That certainly was a contributor."

Now that cases have plummeted to the lowest rate among the states, some may be tempted to think COVID is over.

But Salemi and the governor say the virus is here to stay at some level and in some form.

The key is to manage the risks.

Broward County's mayor, Steve Geller, Friday warned it's not over yet.

"We are recognizing things are improving," Geller said. "We just want to be clear. They're getting better but we’re not out of the woods yet and we desperately would like to be out of the woods. So please get vaccinated."

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