LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County recorded nearly a thousand new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the most reported in a single day during the pandemic, the county’s health department director said.

Dr. Joy Jackson joined other local medical leaders at Lakeland Regional Health Thursday afternoon to sound the alarm about the rapid rise in coronavirus infections over the past six weeks.

After fewer than 500 new cases the week of June 18, the health department reported more than 4,000 for the week of July 23. 

The Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday that Florida has more than 20,133 new covid cases on Wednesday, the second-highest single-day increase during the pandemic. 84 more deaths were also reported.

“Your risk of contracting covid has never been higher since the beginning of the pandemic,” said. Dr. Steven Achinger, Managing Partner of Watson Clinic.

Dr. Jackson said there has been a slight uptick the past few weeks for vaccination doses administered in Polk County, but only 54 percent of the eligible population 12 years and older are vaccinated.

Ahead of the Florida Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 report coming out Friday, Dr. Jackson said about 9,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Polk County this week compared to about 8,200 last week.

“My wife is vaccinated, my girls are vaccinated,” said Dr. Timothy Regan, the chief medical officer for Lakeland Regional Health. “My little guy is not vaccinated because he is 11 and that scares me as we’re coming into the school year.”

The doctors and Lakeland Regional Health CEO and President Danielle Drummond stressed throughout the news conference that the vaccines are safe and effective at preventing hospitalization from covid-19.

LRH Medical Center is caring for 275 hospital patients as of Thursday morning. 27 are requiring intensive care. The previous peak was 180 during January 2021.

Drummond said the hospital is treated younger patients than a year ago and a vast majority who are not vaccinated. She cited the more contagious delta variant for why the virus is spreading so rapidly in Polk County.

Dr. Regan made an emotional plea to those in the community who are not yet vaccinated.

“We are not trying to scare you,” he said. “But here’s reality. This is what is sad. We are bringing 8 and 10-year-olds to the bedside of their parents to say their last goodbyes. People who we’ve extended treatment and we just can’t save.”

Dr. Regan said LRH has expanded its emergency room capacity. He also said they are treating about 50 patients a day with the promising Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy that can prevent hospitalization.

As children return to the classroom, 8 On Your Side has learned Spessard Holland Elementary in Bartow already had to close for two days “because of multiple COVID-19 cases impacting the school.”

Dr. Jackson said she wants parents to know children can both get and spread COVID-19. About 10 percent of the county’s new cases are children under 12 years old.

While not mandated in Polk County Schools, Dr. Jackson said she encourages concerned parents to have their children mask up.