America’s grim Covid-19 warning to Australia

A major American state has become a tragic case study in what can occur when authorities let Covid-19 rip with low vaccinate rates and little-to-no infection control measures.

Florida was one of the first jurisdictions in the United States to wind back initial restrictions to combat the virus, while cases were still rising, in a bid to return to normal life.

Authorities then went further, launching a war on restrictions themselves, including banning mandates for face masks in certain settings, such as schools.

“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state, and I can tell you, Florida – we’re a free state,” Governor Ron DeSantis said recently.

Rhetoric surrounding the rollout of covid vaccines has been at times not supportive and undermining, and Florida has been criticised for its lax take-up of jabs.

Now, while America struggles under the weight of a new wave of cases, thanks to the highly infectious Delta strain, Florida is in a particularly dire position.

The Washington Post described the state as being “the epicentre of a summer coronavirus spike” with an average of almost 30,000 new daily cases.

It’s one of just three US states to hit three million total cases. If Florida was a country, it would now rank 16th in terms of the most infections in the world.

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Fatalities are up 190 per cent to an average of 170 per day. Some 41,000 people in Florida have died since the start of the pandemic.

One of those was Kristen McMullen, a 30-year-old woman who gave birth via emergency C-section on July 27 while battling an acute covid infection.

She cradled her newborn Summer for a few moments before being rushed back to an intensive care unit, where she died 10 days later.

Right across the state, an inundation of seriously ill and dying Floridians has put the healthcare system on the brink of collapse.

It serves as a warning signal to those experiencing covid restriction fatigue, such as Australians who have recently hit the streets to protest against lockdowns.

Most hospitals now at ‘a critical point’

Latest estimates indicate 17,000 are hospitalised with Covid-19 in Florida, with half of those in ICU.

Right across Florida, hospitals are being flooded with people infected with Covid-19, including young and otherwise healthy patients. As a result, capacity has been hit hard and there’s a critical shortage of beds, especially in intensive care, and a lack of available staff.

Palm Beach Country is one of the state’s most populated region and 20 per cent of its residents are now infected with Covid-19. It declared a state of emergency last week as hospital admissions soar and shell-shocked frontline healthcare workers struggle to cope.

“We are really at a very critical point,” Dr Alina Alonso, who heads up the country’s health response, told The Washington Post.

At the weekend, federal authorities deployed hundreds of ventilators to hospital across Florida.

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Jennifer Caputo-Seidler is a doctor at Tampa General Hospital and said 12 floors had been converted to makeshift covid wards, with more space urgently needed.

“The truth is we’re caring for three times the number of patients we had last summer,” Dr Caputo-Seidler wrote in a series of tweets. “We are stretched to the breaking point.”

In Orlando, authorities are pleading with residents to cut back on water usage so it can be conserved for liquid oxygen supplies.

Liquid oxygen is used to treat drinking water supplies, but high demand from hospitals for it for respiratory illness treatment is putting pressure on stock.

“It means there could be impacts to our water quality if we don’t immediately reduce the amount of water that we need to treat knowing that we could be facing issues with this limited supply,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

“This is another unfortunate impact of the pandemic that continues to surge in our community.”

Dr Caputo-Seidler said she and her colleagues are making dozens of calls a day to the loved ones of patients who “we don’t think … are going to survive this”.

“We’re putting multiple patients on ventilators every day. We’re doing CPR on patients younger than me in a desperate attempt to save their life.”

Startlingly, Dr Caputo-Seidler revealed that “almost all of our patients are unvaccinated”.

RELATED: Florida radio who told people not to get covid vaccine dies of coronavirus

A horror surge of new covid cases

After a brief period when it seemed the US had finally turned the tide in its war against coronavirus, a deadly new wave is once again overwhelming the country thanks to the Delta strain.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has warned daily cases could soon hit 200,000 again, with unvaccinated Americans described as “sitting ducks”.

At the moment, the number of new daily cases is average about 140,000.

“I will be surprised if we don’t cross 200,000 cases a day in the next couple of weeks and that’s heartbreaking considering we never thought we would be back in that space again,” Dr Francis Collins, NIH director, told Fox News.

“This is going very steeply upward with no signs of having peaked out.”

The original coronavirus strain had an R value – or an infection rate – of between two and three, but while the R value of the Delta variant is between five and six.

What this means is someone infected with Delta is likely to pass it on to five or six other people, or at least twice as many people as before.

Some believe the Delta strain has an even higher rate of infection than that.

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Infectious disease experts say a covid vaccine is the best defence against infection and when breakthrough cases do occur – that is, someone still contracts the virus despite being inoculated – they significantly prevent serious illness and death.

An estimated 90 million Americans remain unvaccinated and overwhelmingly account for those now flooding hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Those states where vaccination rates remain low, such as Florida and Texas, are seeing especially explosive rates of infection.

Florida’s vaccination rate is well below that of other major states and that’s now being reflected in new cases of Covid-19, which have surged 88 per cent in the past two weeks.

In Texas, where just 46 per cent of people are vaccinated, has also seen its healthcare system stretched to breaking point.

Last week, it emerged some 600 people were waiting for general beds in hospitals in the Houston metropolitan region, while almost 90 were waiting for an ICU bed.

Hospitals in the city are also drastically understaffed, authorities said.

A warning about covid complacency

The majority of Floridians don’t support strict measures to combat the virus, polling has shown, and the state’s economy relies strongly on tourism, so the tone at the very top isn’t overly surprising.

It’s also fair to say that the pushback from the Republican leader was political in nature, with pundits arguing his presidential aspirations and close ties to Donald Trump have shaped much of his response to the covid crisis.

Throughout the pandemic, Florida has been eager to buck the trend and push on with a rapid return to normal pre-covid life.

As large parts of the country invested in vaccination hubs and incentives to encourage residents to get the jab, the Gulf state focused on scaling back measures and even banning them.

Governor DeSantis placed a ban on mandated mask-wearing, such as in schools. He vowed hefty bans for school districts who defied him and even threatened to withhold teachers’ salaries.

Doctors say that level of complacency has contributed to both a low willingness to adopt covid-safe measures and a sense of vaccine hesitancy.

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