Unvaccinated people are playing Russian roulette with COVID-19 variants loaded into the chamber, UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said.
UF Health Shands Hospital saw a 400% increase of COVID-19 patients over the past 16 days — 90% of whom Jimenez said are unvaccinated.
The number soared from 14 to 70 patients, and over 10% of the patients are on ventilators, he said.
“This is now becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Jimenez said. “The data, at least at the Shands hospital, would lend some confirmatory data to that.”
Despite the common belief that the virus is more impactful among the elderly population, Jimenez said the recent COVID-19 patients coming into Shands are younger. He is urging the community to get vaccinated amid a spike in cases across Florida, which accounts for one in five new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
“It’s not a surprise that people are younger because the younger folks are the ones who were not vaccinated,” Jimenez said.
For people who feel the pandemic ended, Jimenez said it was never over.
“Whenever people have said that to me, I say, you don’t live my life,” he said. “Because if you did, you would see people in pretty sick conditions all the time.”
UF reached its highest positivity rates since April, with 40 reported positive cases out of 865 tests from July 12 to July 18.
Daily case number trends match those seen in July 2020, peaking at a 5% seven-day average positivity rate for the third week of July.
The number of people in quarantine or isolation almost tripled from the second to third week of July, going from 95 to 254 people. Of the total, 84 are students, 99 are employees and 71 are UF affiliates.
As of Wednesday, the number increased to 290 people overnight.
The highly infectious Delta variant, which was first identified in the U.S. in March, now accounts for 83% of cases in the U.S., according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Delta variant is spreading 50% faster than the Alpha variant, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain of the virus. People who are fully vaccinated appear to have protection against Delta, according to Yale Medicine.
Delta is now the dominant strain worldwide, identified in 100 countries since December.
In Florida, Delta accounts for 36% of unweighted proportions of variants of concern and other lineages, according to the CDC.
Young adults are the least likely group to get vaccinated. While 80% of people 65 and older have received one or more doses, only 38% of those aged 18-29 have been vaccinated, according to a May CDC post.
A UF Health release in May estimated that between 70% and 80% of UF students have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The estimate is based on informal polls at the testing site, conversations with staff and students and its own vaccination numbers.
After over two months of requests from The Alligator, UF has not provided supporting data for the estimation.
Over 60,0000 vaccines have been administered across UF’s vaccination sites, UF Senior Vice President for Health Affairs David Nelson said.
Since July 9, Alachua County reported an 8.3% new case positivity rate, which is over 3% higher than the national 5.2% seven-day average positivity.
Meanwhile, Florida reached 11.5% new case positivity for July 9 to 15, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Nationally, Florida ranked the worst for the number of weekly cases with over 54,000 new positive cases, according to the CDC.
Due to the rapid rise in cases and the Delta variant, UF Health changed its visitation policies July 19 to protect staff, patients and visitors. Visitation in UF Health Emergency Rooms will continue to be limited, in addition to following specific guidelines for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Adult Hospitals and Outpatient Surgical Centers.
While doubling down on upcoming community vaccination outreach efforts and messaging to build trust in vaccines, Jimenez said masking recommendations will come from guidance from scientists and public health officials.
To combat spikes in cases among unvaccinated people, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said July 18 that he supports local counties reinstating mask mandates. In May, the CDC guidelines lifted masks recommendations for fully vaccinated people in indoor settings, he said, but it also gave local officials flexibility to respond to new outbreaks, according to the Washington Post.
With more students on campus and positive cases spiking, testing increased over 230% from 262 tests for the second week of July to 865 tests for the third week.
As of July 20, the total number of positive cases since March 2020 reached 10,287. Of these cases, 7,194 were students, 1,622 were employees and 1,471 were UF affiliates.
The Florida Department of Health is no longer releasing daily COVID-19 updates and county death statistics.
“The part that nobody really sees is the amount of work that’s involved to collect and submit this data,” Jimenez said. “I would rather have my people taking care of the COVID patients.”
Alachua County reported June 3 a total of 285 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. There have been a total of 26,021 cases and 139,067 people vaccinated, according to the Florida Department of Health.
There were 372 new positive cases and 873 people vaccinated from July 9 to July 15, according to the Florida Department of Health.
New positive cases nearly doubled from the 131 cases reported for the week of July 2, according to Alachua County.
“The increases are startling,” the official Alachua County post stated.
UF Health is offering walk-up vaccinations, and Alachua County has upcoming walk-up vaccine clinics at Thomas Coward Auditorium.
Vaccinations kicked off nearly eight months ago, and by now, Jimenez said people should trust the scientists about the safety of the mRNA technology used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The U.S. has administered over 339 million vaccine doses, according to the CDC.
“Trust the UF scientists,” Jimenez said. “You trust us for Gatorade, you trust us to do AI, you trust us to do marine biology — why stop trusting us now?”
Contact Alexandra Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.
Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.