FILE - Florida vaccine

A pharmacist with Walgreens prepares a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine for residents and staff Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, at the The Palace assisted living facility in Coral Gables, Fla.

(The Center Square) – Only Louisiana ranks lower than Florida in COVID-19 vaccination rates among nursing home workers with less than 42% of staff caring for more than 160,000 Floridians in 700-plus nursing homes and assisted living facilities fully vaccinated against the disease.

According to data released Monday by the AARP’s Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, only 41.8% of the state’s nursing home staff had been vaccinated by July 20 and more than 30% of the state’s 71,000 elderly nursing home residents were unvaccinated.

“Florida continues to lag significantly behind the nation in the percent of fully vaccinated health care workers in our nursing homes,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said. “Florida now accounts for one in five new U.S. cases of COVID. With cases once again rising across the country and considering the highly contagious delta variant, every effort must be made to protect vulnerable nursing home residents.”

Reported infections dropped in Florida nursing homes over the spring until June 20. Since then, 26% reported at least one new case among workers and 11% reported a new infection among residents – both double the national average and an increase in tandem with an overall spike in Florida cases, according to AARP.

According to the last Florida Department of Health COVID-19 update, issued July 16 and covering the week of July 9-15, there were 45,604 new cases reported with an 11.5% positivity rate – more than double the 5% positivity rate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says is necessary to control spread.

That number of reported cases nearly doubles the 23,000 new cases reported the week before. About 3,200 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in the state, according to the DOH, a 73% increase since June 14.

The numbers are raising alarm because only 10.3 million of the state’s 22 million residents over 2-years-old – 47.8% – are fully vaccinated. The number of vaccinations administered per week has fallen by almost 80% statewide across the state since April.

The Florida Health Care Association has vowed to double down on its campaign to convince health care workers of the “importance of getting vaccinated.”

Families for Better Care Executive Director Brian Less is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to restart statewide reporting on COVID-19 cases and deaths among long-term care residents and staff that the DOH has not been doing since June 4 when it switched from daily to weekly coronavirus updates.

At a Monday news conference, Florida DeSantis said the July case spike was expected as the virus is following a seasonal pattern, assured state hospitals were not being stressed — and emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated.

DeSantis said nearly 85% of Florida seniors in the state have been vaccinated and questioned the AARPs claim that 30% of senior nursing home residents were unvaccinated.

The governor attributed some reluctance to media references to “breakthrough infections” among the vaccinated.

"If you are vaccinated though, the number of people that end up hospitalized is almost zero, it's incredibly, incredibly low, so I think there's some misinformation out there where someone will say, ‘Oh these people were vaccinated then they tested positive,’” he said. "Understand, a positive test is not a clinical diagnosis of illness and so if you're vaccinated and you test positive but you don't get sick, well the name of the game is to keep people out of the hospital."

"We have three vaccines available,” DeSantis concluded. “Anyone – any adult – can get it at pharmacies.”