‘We are not post-COVID’: Polk County health leaders warn about spike in cases, hospitalizations

Coronavirus

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — While most masks are off and hugs and handshakes are back, COVID-19 continues to spread in Polk County, especially to those who have not been vaccinated, local health leaders said.

“There’s a general feeling in society that we’re post-COVID,” said Scott Sjoblom, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Polk County. “We are not post-COVID. We are continuing to see cases increase.”

Polk County racked up 687 new cases in the first week of July, an increase of 26% in one week, according to Sjoblom.

“Most of the new cases [are] under the age of 45, and generally that’s because that population is the group that is less likely to be vaccinated,” he said.

Fifty percent of people who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine have received the vaccine in Polk County.

“That’s good, but it’s not enough,” Sjoblom said.

As of Tuesday morning, Lakeland Regional Health was treating 82 patients for COVID-19.

Ninety-nine percent of them are unvaccinated, according to the hospital’s chief medical informatics officer and chief quality officer at Lakeland Regional Health.

“I think it’s a slightly younger population we’re seeing,” Dr. Hal Escowitz said. “Right now in the ICU, we have four people under 40 years old, which is very disheartening to see.”

According to Escowitz, the hospital was treating between 35-40 patients for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

“We’re relaxing too quickly,” Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said.

Mutz is watching as the county’s positivity rate, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, rise from 3% to nearly 9% in recent weeks.

“We are probably a little quick to focus on our rights, and not enough on the consideration and health of others,” said Mutz when asked about why this was happening in Polk County.

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