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COVID-19 Is Here for the Long Haul Despite the Slide

Vaccines have emerged as the most contentious issue since masking, and 30% of people 12 and older are still unvaccinated in Florida, according to the state Department of Health.

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Patients give themselves COVID tests at a testing site at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in Miami.
Mike Stocker / South Florida/Sun Sentinel
(TNS) - Despite the continued decline of COVID-19 cases, we’re nowhere near the end of a pandemic that has upended our lives for a year and a half, experts say.

Peaks and valleys like the one we’re seeing now are to be expected, and the holidays — when the virus tends to spike — are not far off.

Without more people vaccinated, the coronavirus will remain a part of life for the long haul, doctors say.

On Monday, Florida reported 9,022 new cases from the weekend, bringing the daily average below 10,000 for the first time since July 21. COVID-related hospitalizations have dropped by more than 60% since Nov. 2, according to data from the Florida Hospital Association.

But while the numbers are trending in the right direction, it’s too early to declare victory, public health experts say.

“What we now know is we should anticipate waxing and waning with peaks lower over time assuming we don’t have variants that become even more transmissible than the delta variant,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, an internist/cardiologist with offices in Miami and Port St. Lucie. “Coronavirus is here to stay. It’s not going to go anywhere.”

The United Kingdom and the Netherlands experienced a similar trend, Ashby said. The delta variant spread rapidly and declined rapidly as it ran out of people to infect.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health expert at the University of South Florida, agreed that the COVID numbers are encouraging, but “until and unless we experience a sustained period of significant decline in rates of illness, not just a peak or a plateau — for several weeks, perhaps at least a month — can we begin to have a sense of reprieve.

“But we also know that when we have relaxed our behaviors, within weeks, we begin to see upticks on the new case scale.”

Those ticks will likely come within the next few months as people travel across the country to celebrate the holidays with friends and family, said Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County.

“We predict this will continue to go down a little more and then as we get into the holidays, the travel, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, we’ll see that spike that we saw in January go up again,” Alonso said. “So we have to be ready. We can’t let our guard down.”

Vaccines have emerged as the most contentious issue since masking, and 30% of people 12 and older are still unvaccined in Florida, according to the state Department of Health.

Epidemeologists say expensive treatments, like the Regeneron espoused by Gov. Ron DeSantis, are not enough to whip the pandemic.

“Since we, in Florida, are now focused on expensive treatment rather than prevention — without a combination of natural and vaccinated immunity, neither of which is 100%, we must expect that the holidays will bring out-of-state visitors, local crowds and the relative risk of a resurgence,” Wolfson said.

Dr. Scott Ross, chief medical officer of the Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital, said they’ve seen about a 60% to 65% decrease in COVID hospitalizations from a month ago, but the one thing that has not changed is that 90% to 95% of the people who need admission are unvaccinated.

He said the hospital is in a much more manageable position now, allowing doctors to schedule surgeries they had been forced to postpone, such as brain surgeries and open-heart procedures.

While cases have fallen off, Ross believes ”we’ll continue to see flare-ups — albeit much smaller than the peak of the pandemic.”

The question, Ross said, is whether future mutations, such as the new lambda strain, will cause more issues in the future.

The lambda variant was first identified in Peru in December and has reached parts of the U.S. It has not yet generated the concern of delta, but the World Health Organization considers it a variant worth watching,

“What does [the lambda strain] look like? What does it spread like?,” Ross said. “It’s still a little too early to know that. But I think we need to understand COVID is here and here to stay.”

Staff writer Cindy Krischer Goodman contributed to this report.

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