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Health officials urge caution and mask-wearing as Florida coronavirus cases climb

Two people in wheelchairs and an airport worker wearing masks
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Federal health officials are recommending more Floridians wear masks indoors as the coronavirus spreads.

USF epidemiologist Jason Salemi said it's time people get back into a community mindset of preventing infection with several counties across Tampa Bay region now at a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Federal health officials are recommending more Floridians wear masks indoors as the coronavirus spreads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a number of counties across the greater Tampa Bay region are now categorized as "at a high risk" of COVID-19 as cases continue to climb across the state — and hospitalizations increase as well.

Among the counties the CDC lists are Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota, along with areas of South Florida.

RELATED: CDC places about half of Florida at high risk for COVID transmission

The CDC's "COVID Community Level" measure is different from one that tracks transmission — and factors hospitalizations in as well.

According to University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi, many Florida counties have had high levels of virus spreading for weeks.

But because hospitalizations lagged, the CDC still considered overall risk in most of those places as low or medium.

That's changed, however, as COVID hospitalizations are still lower than they've been during previous surges but have steadily increased.

Salemi said it's time people get back into a community mindset of preventing infection rather than focus only on their individual risk.

"So when we think about what actions to take, one thing I really want to stress to people because I hear this all the time, the decision to take action is not binary," Salemi said. "There's not too extremes of doing absolutely nothing to hiding in your home to avoid exposure."

Federal health officials recommend all residents in high-risk counties wear masks indoors and stay up-to-date on COVID vaccines.

Salemi also urges people to spend more time socializing outdoors where there's more ventilation.

"But if that heat does drive you indoors into places like bars and restaurants, those are the places that I think the virus is just going to spread from person to person so much more easily," Salemi said.

He says it's important to think not just of yourself but about vulnerable people in the community who could still get really sick.

Florida has recorded more than 11,000 new cases of the coronavirus on three consecutive days for the first time since early February.

The CDC reported 12,073 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida Tuesday, 11,413 tested positive Wednesday, and 11,125 tested positive Thursday.

Over the past week, the state added 66,868 new cases, bringing the state total to 6,125,115. The CDC also reports the COVID-related deaths of 74,466 people, an increase of 144 from last week.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday that 2,349 people are hospitalized in Florida with COVID-19, up 21 percent from a week ago.

WUSF staff writer Mark Schreiner contributed to this report.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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