The latest reports tracking COVID-19 in Polk County contain mixed messages: New infections declined for a second straight week after the omicron strain brought record levels. Hospitalizations at Lakeland Regional Health were down slightly Monday from week-ago levels. But deaths in Polk and throughout Florida continue rising.
New cases in Polk fell to 7,582 for the week of Jan. 21-27 from 10,837 the previous week, according to Friday’s update from the Florida Department of Health. While that represents a 30% dive, it was still the fourth highest number of weekly infections in the 22 months since the pandemic began.
Testing positivity in Polk last week was 27.6%. While that’s still considerably higher than the 10% that local officials are targeting, it marks the first time in four weeks that the rate fell below 30%.
Hospital admissions countywide of patients with COVID-19 declined 28.7% to 403 for the seven days ending last Saturday from 565 a week earlier, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The decline at Lakeland Regional Health was a more modest 4.6%. The number of patients testing positive for COVID-19 was 247 at noon Monday, compared with 257 one week earlier, the hospital reported.
That number is above the peak of 180 patients during last January’s surge but well below the 423 patients at the height of the summer delta surge last August.
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. However, they say patients with COVID-19 as their primary diagnosis tend to be sicker and are often unvaccinated against the virus.
Deaths in Polk attributed to COVID-19 have risen steadily in recent the weeks. The CDC says 43 deaths were reported during the seven days ending Sunday, compared with 24 for a similar period a week earlier and 13 the week before that.
The CDC calculates the current COVID death rate for Polk at 5.93, compared with 3.31 a week earlier.
Polk’s daily deaths — around 6 last week — hovered at a little over 10 during last winter’s surge and went to well over 30 during last fall’s delta surge.
Across Florida, 1,192 COVID deaths were reported last week, the largest number since the delta wave, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Florida is faring better than the nation as a whole, which saw deaths reaching 2,568 Monday, higher than the delta peak of 2,000 a day during September.
Vaccinations: In Polk, 1,235 people received a dose of vaccine during the last week, according to the state report. That rate is less than half the 2,800 new vaccinations two weeks earlier. The proportion of people age 5 and over in Polk who have received at least one shot remains 65%, compared with 73% statewide.
CDC records show 58.7% of eligible Polk residents as fully vaccinated.
Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com 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.