Florida COVID Cases Continue Record Run

We’re back with the weekly COVID-19 report for Central Florida, with numbers from Orange County and elsewhere around Walt Disney World as of August 9, 2021. This provides an update on new cases, positivity, hospitalization, etc., plus commentary and predictions from public health experts.

As previously stated, we are sharing this since it’s news that may be relevant to out-of-staters planning or on the fence about a vacation to Walt Disney World. The goal with these updates distilling data and information from multiple sources, free of hyperbole and sensationalism–just a straightforward report on current circumstances in Central Florida. We are past the point where personal opinions are of any persuasive value, which is why I am both refraining from offering my perspective and disabling comments in this (and all) posts pertaining to COVID.

To begin, the CDC reported 23,903 new cases in Florida for August 6, 2021 (the most recent date for which there’s data). This was the third time in the last week that Florida broke its previous record for single-day COVID cases. Florida’s seven-day average of new cases stands at 19,250 while the United States as a whole has a moving average of 99,727 new cases per day.

Florida is home to approximately 6.5% of the U.S. population and currently accounts for roughly 20% of all new cases, per data Florida has reported to the CDC. The state’s numbers are currently the highest in the U.S., but come at a time when most southern states are experiencing surging numbers.

Florida also broke its record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 13,793 COVID patients as of Sunday. Per numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services, Florida’s inpatient beds are at more than 83% occupancy and coronavirus patients accounted for 24% of the state’s inpatient beds.

Locally, both AdventHealth and Orlando Health report being at record levels of inpatients with the virus. Orange County’s hospitals admitted 1,003 COVID patients in the last week, the sixth most of any county in the nation, according to a White House report. Hospitalizations and deaths lag cases, so these numbers will likely continue to increase even after cases plateau and decrease.

On a more positive note, Orange County has seen a bump in vaccines administered, with 64.3% of eligible individuals in the county now having received at least one shot.

Today, Orange County held its latest health press conference, which you can watch for yourself above.

This one largely pertains to schools going back into session, which is understandable given that the first day is tomorrow and a lot still (seems to be) unclear or unsettled with regard to quarantine guidelines, mask policies, etc. Consider watching if you’re a local parent, but otherwise, it’s probably not worth your time.

The press conference began with comments from Orange County Mayor Demings, followed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, otherwise known as the voice of the APM at Orlando International Airport.

Mayor Dyer put the current circumstances in blunt terms: “We are now in the voluntary phase of the pandemic. You can opt out by getting vaccinated. Or, you can decide to participate by not getting vaccinated. So it ought to be pretty clear. The best protection against COVID is getting vaccinated. It works and protects against serious illness and death from the virus.”

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County also spoke at the press conference, offering further insight into the ongoing climb in new cases. He shared fresh data for Orange County, including that the 14-day average test positivity rate is currently 19.7%.

In Orange County, there were 1,038 new cases yesterday. On Saturday, that number was 1,197 new cases, with 1,458 new cases on Friday. This past week, Orange County’s rate has been 573 infections per 100,000 people, its highest number since testing began (up from 511 last week). Out of these new cases, 99.5% were unvaccinated.

As a reminder, the criteria for moving down to the CDC’s moderate level is under 50 total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and under 8% test positivity during the past 7 days.

That’s the tier at which the CDC does not recommend indoor masking. Accordingly, that’s where Orange County needs to be before Walt Disney World considers dropping the newly-reinstated indoor face mask rule.

In the question and answer segment of the Orange County health press conference, Dr. Pino indicated that the average age of new cases is trending younger, which is likely due to lower vaccination rates among individuals under age 44, and especially in the 12-17 age group.

Last week, Dr. Pino attributed Orange County’s spike in cases to the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant. At that time, he also said the variant is so aggressive and highly transmissible that anyone who isn’t vaccinated will likely will get it at some point.

During the press conference, the region’s tourism industry also was a topic, as Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond provided an update on tax collections. I’m guessing not many of you care about the particulars of the local tourist development tax, and how June revenue compared to prior months or years (if you do, it was a very good month).

What’s relevant here is that Diamond cautioned against tax-collecting optimism, saying the current rise in COVID numbers “doesn’t bode well for our longer-term outlook.” Orange County has seen growing event and convention cancellations in the last couple of weeks, which is consistent with what we’ve heard from travel agents and other third party vendors with regard to Walt Disney World. Anecdotally, crowds have felt much lower in the parks over the last several days, as well.

Turning to other experts, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb spoke on CBS Face the Nation yesterday. As I’ve noted several times, Gottlieb has become my favorite voice in the last year as a straight-shooter who offers nuanced analysis and tells the truth, good or bad, rather than what he thinks people supposedly need to hear. His predictions also have been largely accurate, with a track record far better than other highly visible public health experts.

When asked at the outset whether the pandemic was worsening, Dr. Gottlieb stated: “I think you’re going to start to see improvements, particularly in the South. There is evidence that the rate of growth in the cases in the South is starting to decline. I think that this week you may see some of the states that have been the outbreak states start to tip over in terms of showing less cases on a daily basis. The rate of expansion…the epidemic is clearly slowing in states like Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri.”

He continued to explain that Midwestern states will start to see more delta spread as rates decrease in the south. Per Dr. Gottlieb: “Cases are building in states like Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina; this is an epidemic that’s going to sweep across the nation at different points in time…northern states are more impervious to the kind of spread we saw in the South, but they’re not completely impervious.”

Again, this would mirror trends observed late last summer and fall in the United States. Different regions experienced spikes at different times, with gatherings driven indoors where the likelihood of transmission is exponentially higher, based upon weather. After peaking in late July and early August, new cases in Florida were low from late August through late October, while the Midwest and Northern states increased during those months.

Dr. Gottlieb’s interview covered a range of other topics, including mask quality, school reopenings, and considerations on vaccines for kids over age 12. It’s well worth watching if you’re a parent or curious about the pandemic’s trajectory. (It’s also only ~7 minutes long, so far shorter than the Orange County press conference!)

In another interview, Dr. Larry Brilliant (another respected epidemiologist who offers nuanced analysis free of doom and gloom) told CNBC that his models predict an “inverted V-shape epidemic curve.” This means that infections increase very quickly, but would also decline rapidly.

Because the Delta variant is so contagious and easily transmissible, it spreads so quickly that “it basically runs out of candidates” to infect, explained Dr. Brilliant. This model’s predictions follow a similar pattern to observed trends in the United Kingdom and India, where new cases dropped dramatically after reaching record highs.

All of this would seemingly suggest that new case numbers in Florida and other parts of the South will level off and begin declining in the not too distant future as the Delta variant runs out of people to infect. Of course, nothing is etched in stone and predictions have been wrong before during the pandemic. (Regardless of anything else, it’s possible that in-person schools returning to session could keep numbers elevated in August.) However, it’s something to keep in mind if you are on the fence about cancelling a trip in September or October based on Florida’s current numbers. By the time your travel dates roll around, your home state might be in a worse position than Florida.

Orange County’s ongoing vaccination campaign coupled with significant levels of natural immunity from prior and ongoing waves of infections mean that going forward, either by inoculation or illness, a high percentage of Floridians will have antibodies as well as strong B and T cell immune memory. This should form a “wall of immunity” that makes future spikes less severe. We’ll conclude with some final words of optimism and wisdom from Dr. Gottlieb: “This is going to be a short-lived wave of infection. It might be our last wave of infection. We have the means to protect ourselves. We ought to adhere to them.”

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!