ORLANDO, Fla. — COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising to levels last experienced during Florida’s winter surge as overlapping waves of omicron subvariants sweep through the state.

As of Friday, more than 3,200 patients were in Florida hospitals for COVID-19, a big jump from about 1,000 COVID patients in early April, but nowhere near the more than 17,000 people hospitalized during the delta wave in August 2021.

Jason Salemi, a University of South Florida epidemiologist, notes that in the most recent seven-day period, Florida has the third-highest per capita rate of new adult hospital admissions with “confirmed COVID-19,” behind only Montana and Hawaii, based on data released Thursday on HealthData.gov.

Omicron subvariants are thought to cause less severe illness than prior strains. However, the new increase in hospitalizations may be a result of the sheer volume of cases that inevitably infect some people at high risk for severe disease.

Three or more strains of omicron are circulating in Florida at this time: the highly transmissible BA.2.12.1 omicron subvariant, as well as newcomers BA.4 and BA.5.

While BA.2.12.1 has gained an advantage by being more contagious than the omicron subvariant BA.2 before it, the newcomers (4 and 5) are particularly good at evading antibodies and infecting those who are vaccinated or previously infected. The newcomers make up about 12% of samples that were sequenced in Florida by Helix during the last week of May.


Some epidemiologists have described what’s happening as the “battle of omicron.”

With nearly 12,000 new COVID cases reported Friday, Florida is a state classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high level” of transmission. Orange and Seminole counties are reporting a test positivity rate of more than 27 percent, while Osceola has a rate of 25.71 percent. Lake County is at 21.61 percent. Health officials consider transmission levels under control when the rate is less than 5 percent.

Salemi notes that Florida is now the state with the highest percentage of its population living in a county classified as a “high level” based on CDC’s hospitalization-based COVID risk measure. That’s 86 percent in Florida compared to 22 percent nationally.

With more COVID deaths added this week, 74,852 have lost their lives to the disease in Florida.

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