More than 40,000 people in Florida have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. PIXABAY/Contributed

Deaths related to COVID-19 infections stood at 63 in Monroe County on Aug. 31. Of those deaths, two were among individuals who were vaccinated, per the county’s top health official. 

Bob Eadie said the Keys have seen an uptick in deaths since a spike in COVID-19 cases shortly after the Fourth of July. Of the total deaths, the majority, if not all, had underlying health conditions. 

“The thing to remember is those conditions were managed well, and they wouldn’t have died on that day were it not for the COVID infection,” he said. “I don’t want to minimize the fact that COVID is really dangerous, and for people who just say, ‘They would have died anyway,’ it’s  disingenuous in the sense that they could have lived longer.”

A final case count provided by the local health department to the public on May 21 reported 49 deaths from the first confirmed COVID-19-related death on April 2, 2020. That means 14 deaths from COVID-19 have been confirmed from late May to the end of August.  

While May 21 marked the local health department’s last daily case count update, people were still able to view deaths, new cases and other data by county on the Florida Health Department’s website. By June 4, publishing of COVID-19-related deaths by county came to an end. 

Today, weekly reports issued by the Florida Health Department, out of Tallahassee, every Friday detail total deaths statewide. Between Aug. 20 and Aug. 26, the state reported 389 deaths. Case and vaccination data is provided by county further down in the report, but deaths by county aren’t shown. 

When asked if he received any explanation from the Florida Health Department in Tallahassee behind the move, Eadie said, “I can answer that in one word. No.” 

Eadie added the local health department keeps track of deaths from daily census reports from hospitals. 

“They will also report any deaths in the previous 24 hours,” he said. 

The Weekly reached out to the State Health Office of Communications to inquire about COVID-19-related death data and how many deaths since a surge was seen in the Keys after July 4. No response was received before press time. 

Statewide, the health department’s latest weekly report, issued Aug. 27, shows 43,979 COVID-19-related deaths out of the more than 3.1 million cases since the pandemic broke out. That’s a case fatality rate of 1.4%. 

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Aug. 31 reported 230 deaths in the last seven days and a total death count in Florida of 44,561. The Florida Health Department and CDC have gone back and forth in recent weeks over the way case and death data is being reported. 

New COVID-19 infections in the state appear to be plateauing, with 151,749 confirmed cases reported between Aug. 20 and Aug. 29. The week before saw 150,236 cases. 

In Monroe County, 386 new COVID-19 cases were reported. That’s down from the previous week when 491 new infections were seen. A little more than 700 shots were administered to bring the total number vaccinated to 52,347, or 76% of the county population. 

“There’ve been a lot of conversations about people who’ve been vaccinated and who have been hospitalized or come down with a serious case. Those are really small compared to the number of people actually vaccinated,” Eadie said. “No vaccination is going to be 100% effective for the population, but it’s been really effective.”

Baptist Health South Florida said it was caring for five patients with COVID-19 in Monroe County on Aug. 31. Throughout its network from Miami to the Keys, 656 patients were being treated. Gina Halley-Wright, spokeswoman for Baptist, said an overwhelming majority of positive patients at the hospitals are unvaccinated. 

“We have seen a steady decline in the number of COVID cases across the system,” she said. “We are hopeful and continue to encourage the community to remain vigilant.”

Lower Keys Medical Center remained in yellow status on Aug. 31. Thirty-six COVID-19-positive patients were being cared for, of whom eight were in intensive care and seven receiving ventilator care. 

Those with compromised immune systems are beginning to receive a booster shot. Eadie said there’s still some controversy whether a booster shot is needed with the vaccine’s effectiveness. But he said the CDC determined that it’s a good idea to get one. 

“And I would agree,” he said. “Those who have real issues concerning their immune system, they can go to any of the pharmacies and fill out a form, make appointments online and receive the vaccine.”

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.