Declining numbers of new COVID-19 infections this week signal that the omicron surge in Polk County and statewide may have started receding. In Polk, 10,837 new cases were tallied between Jan. 14 and 20, according to the latest report from the Florida Department of Health. That’s a 27% decrease from the previous week and the first time the numbers fell after a seven-week climb. Still, it’s the third-highest week for Polk in the 22 months that the pandemic has been tracked.

Statewide, 289,204 COVID-19 cases were tallied in the weekly report, a 32.8% decrease from the previous week.

While omicron is considered less virulent than previous strains of the disease, the numbers of infections in Polk set new records during the past three weeks and hospital admissions have increased.

Testing positivity in Polk declined for a second straight week after hitting a record 33.8% three weeks ago. Positivity this week was 30.7%, well above the 10% level local officials would like to see as a sign that community spread is slowing.

Hospitalizations throughout Polk County increased slightly this week to 590 from 565 a week earlier, but the rate of increase is down considerably, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, hospitalizations declined to 13,737 confirmed COVID-19 admissions this week from 14,523 a week earlier, according to the CDC.

The latest hospitalization figures for Lakeland Regional Health are for Monday afternoon. At that time, the hospital reported 244 patients in beds who had tested positive for COVID-19.

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.

Dozens of cars snaked through the line for COVID-19 tests at the RP Funding Center on Monday morning.

Still, hospital personnel have said that the combination of rising COVID hospitalizations and staff who are out with the virus are stressing resources considerably. Lakeland Regional Health this week opened a COVID-19 clinic across Parkview Place from its emergency room for patients exhibiting mild, cold-like symptoms to relieve pressure from the ER.

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 Florida totaled 65 last week, the largest number since the end of the delta wave in November.

Scientists at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute estimate the omicron wave may produce a third of the deaths that delta did, but that menas 8,000 Floridians could die from the variant, The Tampa Bay Times reports.

In Polk County, deaths have increased this week, according to the CDC, which reports 24 deaths in the seven days ending Thursday compared with 13 counted a week earlier. The death rate of 3.31 per day during that period was far below the over-30 numbers reported last summer during the height of the delta surge.

Vaccinations: In Polk, 1,944 people received a dose of vaccine during the last week, according to the state report, reflecting a 30.6% drop from the previous week. The proportion of people age 5 and over in Polk who have received at least one shot is 65%, compared with 73% statewide.

CDC records show 58.2% of Polk residents as fully vaccinated.

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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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