“I couldn’t believe that I could get [COVID-19] if I had been vaccinated,” Newberg tells New Times. “I asked the medical team, what was the point of me getting vaccinated in the first place? They told me if I hadn’t, I probably would’ve ended up on a ventilator. It’s a really scary thing.”
In spite of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merch, new data show that the state accounts for 20 percent of all new COVID-19 infections, ranking among the highest in hospitalizations, new infections, and deaths per capita in the nation.
Across the state, roughly 59 percent of Floridians have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The percentage is much higher in Miami-Dade, where 75 percent of the population has received at least one dose — the highest percentage in the state.
So how come the county is still reporting cases at roughly five times the national average?
In Miami-Dade, coronavirus cases have more than tripled since mid-June, rising from 2,231 cases the week of June 18 to 7,062 the week of July 9. Cases are up nearly 60 percent and hospital admissions have more than doubled this week, according to the CDC's seven-day moving average. Hospitalizations at Jackson Health System Hospitals have skyrocketed, too, more than doubling from 57 cases on July 5 to 139 cases on July 19 — a 111 percent increase. As a response, Jackson Health System has upgraded its COVID threat level to "high" at most of its facilities, restricting its visitation policies.
"Once the [national] numbers started looking good, people [in Miami-Dade] started to selectively unmask — whether they were vaccinated or not," explains Dr. Hany Atallah, Jackson Memorial's chief medical officer. "Ninety-five percent of the patients [at Jackson] are unvaccinated. They're calling this 'The Pandemic of the Unvaccinated.'"
Breakthrough infections — instances in which a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19 — remain rare, Atallah says. "Though a breakthrough infection is unlikely, should you happen to contract one, those infections are less severe and typically do not require hospitalization," the doctor says.
"Ninety-five percent of the patients [at Jackson] are unvaccinated. They're calling this 'The Pandemic of the Unvaccinated.'" —Dr. Hany Atallah
According to Atallah, Jackson Memorial began observing a surge in cases two weeks ago. The hospital has largely returned to normal operations as coronavirus infections declined. But there have been recent meetings to ensure that the hospital can safely accommodate the recent uptick in cases.
"With this surge, we don't have the room that we had a year ago," Atallah says, noting that the hospital had allotted many more beds during the pandemic's peak last year. "It's a challenge. We're obviously concerned about the lag between the increase of infection and the increase in deaths."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or social distancing. But those who are not fully vaccinated are advised to wear facial coverings in indoor public spaces and in crowded outdoor settings in areas where high numbers of cases are being reported.
"We know that vaccination works, even against the Delta variant," Atallah emphasizes, referring to the variant first identified in India last December and now the most dominant strain in the country.
"If you're unvaccinated, it's not too late," he says. "Even one shot starts to help with protection. And if you had a prior infection that immunity starts to go down after a little while, so still go get the vaccine."