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What Went Wrong With the Pandemic in Florida

In the first week of August, the state recorded another 5,600 deaths. But because mortality rates normally drop during summer months, the figure was more than 50 percent above what’s typical.

“We’re seeing a ton of people calling us to report the Covid deaths,” said Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, the Polk County medical examiner. “They’re typically young people that have been sick for a while.”

The picture of who is dying, however, is complicated.

About 82 percent of people 65 and older in the state are fully vaccinated, about average for the nation. That has still left a relatively large number of older people — about 819,000 — unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, said Jason L. Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida. If the unvaccinated also take fewer other precautions, he added, that would put them directly in the virus’s path.

“The Delta variant is exceptional at finding vulnerable populations,” he said.

The situation in nursing homes, where infections can spread swiftly, has also been problematic. While vaccination rates among older Floridians as a whole have been good, the rate of nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated — an average of 73.1 percent in each home — is lower than every state but Nevada, according to the C.D.C. About 47.5 percent of nursing home staff members were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 15, the lowest of any state but Louisiana.

Older people are also more likely to have immune deficiencies and comorbidities, making them more susceptible to breakthrough infections and hospitalizations, noted Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. And some, though not all, data have suggested that immunity against infection has waned in older, vaccinated adults; the Biden administration has indicated that those people will be among the first in line for booster shots.

Then there are the younger people, who now make up a larger share of Florida virus deaths. Before June 25, people under 65 made up 22 percent of deaths. Since then, that proportion has risen to 28 percent.

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