Polk County experienced record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and a record high testing positivity rate last week as the Omicron variant — said to be more contagious but less virulent than previous strains — spreads.

New cases: Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, 12,535 infections were reported in Polk County, according to the latest weekly roundup from the Florida Department of Health. That’s well above the previous high of 7,524, recorded the week before last.

Testing positivity last week was 33.8%, another record. The previous high was 28.9% in mid-August around the time that the summer COVID-19 surge peaked. Polk’s rate last week was a bit above the statewide rate of 31.2%. The World Health Organization has recommended a positivity rate of 5% as a sign of minimal community spread.

Statewide, nearly 57,000 COVID-19 cases per day were recorded last week, which is more than 150% higher than the peak of last summer’s delta wave. Florida accounted for one out of every 10 infections in the U.S. last week and had the seventh-highest per-capita rate of infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitalizations: Florida hospitals reported 8,548 COVID-19 admissions as of Friday, four times the rate of two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Lakeland Regional recently has posted its COVID-19 admissions on social media. Last Tuesday it reported 144 COVID-19 admissions, compared with 65 one week earlier. The hospital’s previous peaks were 443 during the summer 2021 surge and 180 during the previous winter’s surge.

Deaths related to COVID-19 in Florida have remained low during the omicron surge, The Orlando Sentinel reports, with a seven-day average of 0.12 deaths a day per 100,000 population, the fourth-lowest in the U.S.

The CDC reports deaths per 100,000 population at the county level. For Polk, the number for the last seven days is 1.79 per 100,000 population, the third highest in Florida.

Vaccinations: There were 2,662 new vaccinations in Polk last week, down from 2,725 reported the prior week, which included much of the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

In Polk, 64% of residents age 5 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine, compared with a statewide rate of 72%, according to the Florida Department of Health. The proportion of Polk residents who are fully vaccinated is 54.3%, according to the CDC.

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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.

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