TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The nation's top doctor said Wednesday he was "deeply concerned" about Florida's rising COVID-19 cases, which make up about 20 percent of the nation's new infections.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged the state's unvaccinated to get a shot as soon as possible.
"Thanks to this vaccine, these are avoidable losses," Murthy said. "We can get through this pandemic, and we will get through this pandemic, but we'll get through it a lot faster if we all step up and take the paths to get ourselves and our families vaccinated."
Murthy's concerns followed weeks of COVID-19 reports that kept getting worse for Florida. A new surge among unvaccinated people seems to have arrived as the more infectious Delta variant continued to spread.
Florida now leads the nation in the latest seven-day CDC COVID case (56,746) and death rates (198). Hospitalizations were up again as well. The state saw an increase of more than 50 percent compared to the last seven days.
Murthy warned a new pandemic among unvaccinated was taking shape. The three available shots, he said, remained the best way to prevent infection or at least reduce the virus's impact.
"I want people to be able to take advantage of those benefits of science," Murthy said. "I want them to be protected from this virus. You know I've lost 10 of my own family members here and in India. It is painful. It is a, you know, loss that you never really recover from."
The latest state report shows about 40 percent of Florida's eligible population has yet to get a single shot. That's worse than the national average of 34 percent.
Even the governor pushed harder Wednesday than he had recently to get shots in arms. Speaking to the media in St. Petersburg, he said the data proved vaccine effectiveness.
"If you look at the people being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all," DeSantis said. "These vaccines are saving lives."
Increasing Florida's vaccine rates won't happen overnight.
Until they improve, Murthy said masks, hand washing and social distancing should return, even for those who've had their shots. The surgeon general reminded, they too can get infected and spread COVID to others.
Florida, however, isn't likely to return to mask or other mandates to fight the new case surge.
Lawmakers recently passed a law to limit local health emergency powers. The governor has also vowed no penalties for mandate violators in the state.