The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Polk County hit a new high last week, but the rate of increase is slowing down, according to the latest report from the Florida Department of Health. The testing positivity rate is still over 30%, but lower than the previous week, the report shows. And Lakeland Regional Health is seeing strain on employees as admissions fueled by the omicron variant continue to escalate.

Polk saw 14,852 new COVID-19 infections for the week of Jan. 7-13, according to the latest weekly update from the Florida Department of Health. That’s an increase of 18.5% from the previous week, compared with increases of 66.6% and 319.9% for the previous two weeks.

Testing positivity dropped to 32.6% from the previous week’s 33.8%, which was a record high. Both are well above the 10% level local officials would like to see as a sign that community spread is slowing.

Hospitals across Polk County saw 565 admissions of patients testing positive for COVID-19 in the seven days ending on Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 28% increase over the previous seven days.

Hospitals acknowledge that during the omicron surge they are seeing larger numbers of patients who are admitted for non-COVID reasons and discover they are COVID-positive when tested.

Hospitals statewide report about 13% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, compared with nearly 30% as the delta variant peaked last summer.

Lakeland Regional Health reported 208 hospitalized patients who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, compared with 144 one week earlier and 65 a week before that.

An LRH nurse told Tampa’s News Channel 8 that she’s seen emergency waits of four or five hours recently as the hospital experiences both a growing number of people seeking emergency treatment and more employees calling in sick with COVID-19.

At the start of last week, 190 of the hospital’s 6,400 employees were out sick because of COVID, Chief Human Resources Officer Scott Dimmick told the station.

Watson Clinic is also experiencing large numbers of employees out because of COVID-19: “We’re managing but it’s day to day honestly,” Kelly Lonsberry, senior associate administrator for human resources told the station. “It’s really unprecedented. We went through the Delta variant and it was bad but it wasn’t this bad.”

Statewide, around 10% of hospitals reported staffing shortages this week, and 20% anticipate shortages in the coming week, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Florida’s death toll last week was 470, the highest since early November.

In Polk County, 13 deaths were reported during the seven days ending Friday, according to the CDC. The death rate of 1.79 per day during that period was far below the over-30 numbers reported last summer during the height of the delta surge.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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