More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic, underscoring the perils of limiting public health measures as the Delta variant rips through the state.
This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now. The average for new known cases reached 23,314 a day on the weekend, 30 percent higher than the state’s previous peak in January, according to a New York Times database. Across the country, new deaths have climbed to more than 1,000 a day, on average.
And hospitalizations in Florida have almost tripled in the past month, according to federal data, stretching many hospitals to the breaking point. The surge prompted the mayor of Orlando to ask residents to conserve water to limit the strain on the city’s supply of liquid oxygen, which is needed both to purify drinking water and to treat Covid-19 patients.
Even as cases continue to surge, with more than 17,200 people hospitalized with the virus across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has held firm on banning vaccine and mask mandates. Several school districts have gone ahead with mask mandates anyway.
Overall, 52 percent of Floridians are fully vaccinated, but the figure is less than 30 percent in some of the state’s hardest-hit counties.
On Monday, dozens of doctors and hospital employees in Palm Beach County gathered for an early morning news conference to beseech the unvaccinated to get shots, emphasizing that the surge was overwhelming the health care system and destroying lives.
“We are exhausted,” said Dr. Rupesh Dharia, an internal medicine specialist. “Our patience and resources are running low.”
A growing proportion of the people inundating hospitals and dying in Florida now are coming from younger segments of the population, particularly those ages 40 to 59, which were less vulnerable in earlier waves of the pandemic. The Delta variant is spreading among younger people, many who thought they were healthy and did not get vaccinated.
Dr. Chirag Patel, the assistant chief medical officer of UF Health Jacksonville, a hospital system in Northeast Florida, said the patients hospitalized with the virus during this latest surge tended to be younger and had fewer other health issues, but were nearly all unvaccinated. Of those who have died, including patients ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s, more than 90 percent were not inoculated, Dr. Patel said.
“We’ve had more patients this time around that have passed away at a younger age with very few if any medical problems,” he said. “They simply come in with Covid, and they don’t make it out of the hospital.”
Two months ago, the number of Covid-19 patients admitted at the system’s two University of Florida hospitals in Jacksonville was down to 14. On Tuesday morning, 188 coronavirus patients were in the hospitals, including 56 in the intensive care units.
One of the hardest parts of his job, Dr. Patel said, is having to tell family members that their unvaccinated loved one had succumbed to the virus. “It’s just such a senseless and preventable way of ultimately dying,” he said.
Lisa Waananen, Alison Saldanha and Sarah Cahalan contributed reporting.
TOKYO — The Japanese health authorities on Thursday announced that they would halt the use of over 1.6 million doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine after some vaccination sites reported finding tainted vials.
The problem comes as Japan, which initially struggled to get its vaccination program into full gear, confronts its worst wave of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, raising concerns that medical systems in some parts of the country could be overwhelmed.
Unspecified contaminants were discovered in nearly 40 doses of the vaccine at eight locations across Japan, prompting the decision to pull the lot that included them, as well as two other lots produced at the same location, the public broadcaster NHK reported.
In a statement, Takeda Pharmaceutical, the company that distributes the shots in Japan, said that it had asked Moderna to carry out an urgent investigation into the cause of the problem. Takeda did not report any concerns about health issues arising from use of the tainted vials.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, said that an unknown number of people had been vaccinated with the contaminated doses, but that the government had received no reports of ill effects. He urged people with concerns to consult their doctors.
After getting off to a slow start, Japan is now administering over a million vaccine doses each day. Currently, about 43 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. In addition to Moderna, Japan has approved the use of vaccines produced by Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
However, as the inoculation program has accelerated, so has the virus. Tokyo declared its fourth state of emergency in July as it confronted a rapid rise in cases driven by the Delta variant. The situation has since deteriorated rapidly, with daily case numbers reaching over 25,000 for the first time on Friday. Total deaths are at nearly 15,700.
The decision to withdraw the Moderna doses is not expected to have a major impact on the overall vaccination program, Mr. Kato said, adding that the government was working to reduce any disruptions.
Despite the rising numbers, Tokyo has carried on more or less as usual. The city is currently hosting the Paralympics, which opened on Tuesday.
Much like for the Olympics, which were held for two weeks starting at the end of July, the organizers of the Paralympic Games have adopted strict measures — such as daily testing of athletes — to try to keep infection rates down. Since Aug. 12, 184 people associated with the Paralympics have tested positive for Covid-19. On Thursday, Japanese news media reported that an athlete had been hospitalized with the virus, which would be a first for the event.
The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is associated with an increased risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, a large new study from Israel confirms. But the side effect remains rare, and Covid-19 is more likely to cause myocarditis than the vaccine is, scientists reported on Wednesday.
The research, which is based on the electronic health records of about two million people who are 16 or older, provides a comprehensive look at the real-world incidence of various adverse events after both vaccination and infection with the coronavirus.
In addition to myocarditis, the Pfizer vaccine was also associated with an increased risk of swollen lymph nodes, appendicitis and shingles, although all three side effects remained uncommon in the study. Coronavirus infection was not associated with these side effects, but it did increase the odds of several potentially serious cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and blood clots.
“Coronavirus is very dangerous, and it’s very dangerous to the human body in many ways,” said Ben Reis, a co-author of the new study and the director of the predictive medicine group at the Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program.
He added, “If the reason that someone so far has been hesitating to get the vaccine is fear of this very rare and usually not very serious adverse event called myocarditis, well, this study shows that that very same adverse event is actually associated with a higher risk if you’re not vaccinated and you get infected.”
The data arrived in the middle of an intense discussion among federal regulators about the risks of myocarditis and pericarditis, which is inflammation of the lining around the heart, in younger recipients of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
Delta Air Lines’ plan to charge unvaccinated employees more for health insurance is an idea that has been widely discussed but is mired in legal uncertainty.
Starting Nov. 1, employees who have not received the vaccine will have to pay an additional $200 per month to remain on the company’s health plan. It is part of a series of requirements that unvaccinated workers will face in the months to come, the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a memo to staff.
“We’ve always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis,” he said. “That’s why we’re taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate.”
Every Delta employee who has been hospitalized because of the coronavirus in recent weeks was not yet fully vaccinated, with hospital stays costing the company an average of about $50,000. Like most large employers, Delta insures its own work force, meaning it pays health costs directly and hires an insurance company to administer its plans.
Insurance surcharges may appeal to companies that are seeking a less coercive means to increase vaccination rates, said Wade Symons, a partner at Mercer, a benefits consulting firm. He has had conversations with about 50 large companies that are considering imposing such fees, he added.
Legally speaking, insurance surcharges are more complicated than simple employment mandates, which are widely considered legally sound. Federal law bars employers and insurers from charging higher prices to people with pre-existing health conditions. But the vaccine surcharges are being structured as employer “wellness” incentive programs, which are permitted under the Affordable Care Act. Such programs must be voluntary but can involve rewards or penalties as large as 30 percent of an employee’s health insurance premium.
Under federal law, employers must provide accommodations for workers who cannot receive a vaccine for health reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.
“This is not rocket science, but it is not easy,” said Rob Duston, a lawyer with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Washington, D.C., whose focus includes employment and disability issues.
“You are dealing with the overlap of at least three different laws,” he added, referring to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s wellness plan, as well as Covid-19 guidelines. The companies would have to abide by the Americans With Disabilities Act and health privacy laws, too.
At the emergency department of Hilo Medical Center on the island of Hawaii Wednesday, patients lay on beds in the hallway as staff members scrambled to find space in other parts of the hospital.
“Today is the fullest we’ve been in over 15 years — maybe even ever,” said Elena Cabatu, director of public affairs at the hospital. Nurses “are almost beside themselves at this point,” she said.
Across the islands of Hawaii, hospitals are facing an acute shortage of beds and medical staff as the Delta variant causes a surge far worse than any the state experienced during earlier waves of the pandemic.
By virtue of its geographical isolation and stringent government restrictions, Hawaii maintains its position as the state with the lowest rates of Covid cases and deaths. But in recent months, as restrictions have loosened and travel has resumed, case numbers have skyrocketed.
On July 1, the state’s seven-day average was 40 new cases daily. By Aug. 19, the new case reports had peaked at 729 a day, according to a New York Times database, more than double the state’s previous high in September.
And, with just 55 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, health care providers worry that the worst is yet to come.
Models show that the state could reach a daily average of 1,500 Covid hospitalizations by the end of September, said Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. The state normally maintains just 2,000 staffed hospital beds across the islands.
“The numbers don’t work, obviously,” said Mr. Raethel. Options for obtaining additional beds are limited. “It’s not like New York where you can truck people or beds in from New Jersey. We’re a five-hour flight away from the mainland.”
Over 200 health care workers have been dispatched from the mainland to assist the strapped hospitals. Three hundred more will be on the way next week.
At the same time, officials are rushing to reinstate restrictions to temper the surge. On Monday, Mayor Rick Blangiardi of Honolulu prohibited indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people for at least 28 days.
And at a news conference Monday, Gov. David Ige discouraged tourists from coming.
“It’s not a good time to travel to the islands,” he said. “The visitors who choose to come to the island will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect to get when they visit Hawaii.”
The New York Times