Miami family pushing vaccine after COVID-19 hospitalization

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — As Florida’s COVID-19 cases continue to reach record highs, accounting for more than 20% of the nation’s new cases and hospitalizations, one Miami family said they wished they’d been vaccinated after all three were hospitalized recently.

Yoiris Duran’s family had decided against the vaccine, saying they’d heard too many conflicting messages. The Miami couple are in their mid-50s and try to eat healthy foods. She works out; her husband is an active handyman with asthma. Her 25-year-old son is also in good health, so they felt protected.

A few weeks ago, they all got terrible headaches and lost their sense of taste. Her husband had severe diarrhea, vomiting and was rapidly losing weight. After five days, as he struggled to breathe, he was rushed to the hospital, where they started him on oxygen and eventually a plasma treatment during his five-day stay, she said in a video interview this week given to The Associated Press by Baptist Health South Florida.

Back home, Yoiris Duran said she and her son felt so weak she could barely walk to the bathroom. As their symptoms progressed and they struggled to breathe, they also ended up at Homestead Hospital.

“Last week was really bad, and I even actually thought that we could die, the way we were feeling,” the 56-year-old real estate agent said.

On Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 23,903 new COVID-19 cases for Friday. That tops the previous day’s record of 22,783 new cases. Florida saw a rise of the seven-day average in news cases to 19,250 this Friday from 15,817 a week earlier.

The state tallied 616 deaths in one week, raising the total COVID-19 death toll to 39,695, according to weekly statistic published late Friday by the Florida Department of Health.

The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Florida are unvaccinated. Of the more than 10.5 million fully vaccinated Floridians, approximately 0.019% are in a Florida hospital with COVID-19, said Mary Mayhew, president of Florida Hospital Association.

“COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida have doubled in the last two weeks, with younger, healthier individuals getting COVID-19 and being hospitalized,” said Mayhew, who called the vaccine a lifesaver.

But the number of people getting first or second shots is also rising, with more than 380,000 people getting them in the last seven-day period, compared with 334,000 who got it the previous week.

“People are reacting to this by going out and getting the vaccine, and that really has to be the reaction,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest hospitals in the state caring for high numbers of low-income patients.

Duran said she and her family now wish they’d been vaccinated.

“We’ve been finding out that people that get vaccinated, even if they get COVID, they don’t get it as strong as we did,” she said. “I’ve been telling all my friends and my family to go and get vaccinated. I don’t want people to go through what we have gone through.”

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has encouraged vaccinations, yet repeatedly stressed he will not impose statewide mask mandates or business lockdowns. He’s used the surge to fuel his reelection campaign next year, publicly sparring with President Joe Biden, and accusing federal and state Democrats of being intent on using the virus outbreak to steal Floridians’ freedoms.

“In terms of imposing any restrictions. That’s not happening in Florida. It’s harmful, it’s destructive. It does not work,” he said at a press conference Friday, saying Los Angeles County had a winter surge despite all its restrictions.

“We really believe that individuals know how to best assess their risks. We trust them to be able to make those decisions,” DeSantis said.