Marion COVID cases up over 400%, FDA expands boosters to those as young as 12

Rae Austin, the ORMC Pharmacy Operations Manager, prepares COVID-19 vaccinations for health professional at Ocala Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Ocala Health received 3,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday. They plan to dispense the vaccines at Ocala Regional and West Marion Community Hospital. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted January 3, 2022 | By Matthew Cretul

Marion County Update

COVID cases in Marion County increased dramatically from two weeks ago, as the county registered 1,543 new cases during the week of Dec. 24-30.  The numbers are the highest in almost three and a half months, according to figures released by the Florida Department of Health (FLDOH) Friday evening.  In the last report, the county reported recording 363 cases two weeks ago.

Along with the soaring overall number of cases, the county’s positivity rate and cases per 100,000 also rose drastically. The positivity rate climbed from 5.0% to 17.4%, and as with the total number of cases, the cases per 100,000 increased more than four-fold as well, from 97.5 to 414.3.

In Health and Human Services hospitalization numbers last updated Dec. 28, county hospitals reported 78% of inpatient beds filled, with 2% of those being COVID patients.  Additionally, 84% of ICU beds were filled, with 4% being COVID patients.

While hospitalization numbers have been slowly declining over the past few weeks, if the Omicron variant follows the same trends as prior COVID variants such as Delta, hospitalizations are expected to rise again soon following the large increase in local new cases.

In Ocala, COVID Test FL is offering testing at the Ocala First Baptist Church located at 2801 S.E. Maricamp Road. COVID Test Express is offering testing in the Villages at 11714 N.E. 62nd Terrace. Both locations are open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

 State Update

Not only did new COVID cases quadruple in Marion County, but they also rose drastically across the state as a whole, with Florida seeing more than twice the number of new cases as it reported two weeks ago.

Florida recorded 298,455 new cases of COVID during the week of Dec. 24 to Dec. 30, an increase of more than double from the 128,186 cases during the week of Dec. 17 to Dec. 23.

With the increase in cases comes an increase in new case positivity as well as cases per 100,000.

According to the FLDOH weekly report, the state’s new case positivity is 26.5%, while the cases per 100,000 is 1,358.1.

The state’s overall vaccination rates dropped noticeably from the two previous reports, as the state recorded administering 326,728 doses of the vaccine last week, compared with the 567,748 doses two weeks ago and 508,044 doses three weeks ago.  This brings the total state population of those ages 5 and up to 71%.

Specific to children ages 5-11, the state reported administering 18,230 doses of the vaccine last week, bringing the total number of children vaccinated to 255,362. The total population of children ages 5-11 in the state is just under 1.7 million, and figures released by the state showed 15% of them are now vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Associated Press reported the U.S. is expanding COVID-19 booster availability, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12 in an effort to combat the growing number of cases caused by the Omicron variant.

Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recently reported the isolation period for those individuals who are exposed to COVID but remain asymptomatic to five days, down from the 10 days it previously advised.

Moreover, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and also Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden stated over the weekend that the administration is in the process of determining whether a negative COVID test should be added to the recent CDC updates.

MCPS Update

Marion County Public Schools (MCPS) have been closed for winter break until January 3, 2022, and no COVID updates have been posted to their website since the beginning of the break.

With the latest updated figures, COVID numbers have once again moved above the threshold set for MCPS to consider having students wear face coverings.

According to FLDOH guidance, the county must be below 99.9 cases per 100,000 (currently at 414.3) and the new case positivity must remain below 10% (currently at 17.4%) for two weeks in order for coverings not to be required.

MCPS School Board Chair Rev. Eric Cummings did not return a request for comment.