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How common are breakthrough infections? Florida says they make up about 41% of the state’s new COVID cases

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Breakthrough infections now account for an estimated 41% of the reported COVID cases across Florida — marking just how aggressive omicron has been in the state.

The state’s new approximation of breakthroughs is an increase from just a month ago when health officials estimated about 30% of new infections were in people who were fully vaccinated or boosted. That could amount to as many as 800,000 breakthrough infections in Florida in December, and as new cases are rising in January, that number likely has grown larger.

A breakthrough infection happens when a person who has been fully vaccinated against COVID still becomes infected two weeks after a second dose. Across the country, scientists say they are seeing more breakthrough infections with omicron than delta because the efficacy of the vaccines is lower against the variant and because omicron is much more contagious.

However, medical experts are reminding the public that vaccinations still slim your chance of the virus killing you.

More than 80% of COVID patients in Miami-Dade’s hospitals are not vaccinated.

So even though the COVID vaccines won’t always keep you from catching the virus, they’ll make it much more likely you end up with mild symptoms rather than a hospital stay. Over the last two weeks, only about 20% of COVID patients in Miami-Dade’s hospitals were vaccinated, and a mere 3% were boosted.

“It does look like for the vaccinated this has become a mild illness,” said Dr. Lilly Lee, chief of emergency medicine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. “If you are unvaccinated or immune impaired, you are at risk and there is still a likelihood you may end up in the ICU.”

Lee said while she is able to send more people home without being admitted for COVID, “you can still get very sick with this variant, especially if you are unvaccinated or have no immune response. You can still end up on a ventilator.”

In Miami-Dade hospitals, about 300 COVID patients are in intensive-care beds and about 200 are on ventilators. Lee said most of the vaccinated patients at her hospital with COVID are immunocompromised or transplant recipients.

“What Miami-Dade’s numbers show is the vaccine still protects you pretty well and a booster protects you very well against hospitalization and death,” said Bill Ku, who has been graphing breakthrough infections on his website, COVID-19 odds.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not updated publicly available breakthrough data since Nov. 20, before the omicron wave began. However, the agency has reported that the risk of COVID infection is eight times higher in the unvaccinated than in the vaccinated; the risk of hospitalization or death in the unvaccinated population is 25 times higher.

Still, one thing that has become clear to doctors is that two doses of Pfizer or Moderna aren’t enough protection against omicron. “There is good evidence that the third dose is providing a lot more protection against omicron,” Dr. Shaun Truelove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNBC.

Florida does not delineate breakthrough infection by vaccinated and boosted but rather groups them together in its estimate of 41% of all infections in the last 30 days. All evidence of booster protection thus far is anecdotal — Floridians reporting more mild cases after their third dose.

The predominant symptoms in Floridians with mild breakthrough infections are sore throat, headache, body aches and congestion, local doctors say.

Dr. Jeffrey Collins, chief medical officer of MD Now Urgent Care, said he has seen a difference in symptoms with the unvaccinated. “They just look a little bit sicker than people who are vaccinated. Their symptoms are more pronounced.”

Some studies suggest that vaccinated people may clear the virus faster.

They may carry a lot of virus initially, but it disappears quickly. Collins says he has seen this in particular with people in their 20s and 30s. For them, symptoms usually last about 48 hours. For those 40 and older, the symptoms often last longer — up to two weeks. And in the unvaccinated, symptoms including a cough can linger for three to four weeks.

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Collins said more recently he is seeing gastrointestinal issues with COVID — vomiting, diarrhea. “They think they ate something bad and then they test positive.”

“Almost everyone I talk to thought the booster was going to prevent infection, and they went to a wedding or a New Year’s Eve party or some event,” Collins said. “They let their guard down and omicron is so contagious and transmissible that they got it. If they were more careful, maybe they wouldn’t have.”

Lori Balter, of Davie, said 10 days after she received her COVID booster, she gathered with her family. One by one they each came down with symptoms and tested positive. She had a few hours of fever, a few days of sinus congestion and about 10 days on and off of a headache. “I feel grateful I had the booster because I know people who weren’t vaccinated that got it more severe and far longer than I did,” Balter said.

“I got vaccinated and boosted to keep me from getting severely ill and I believe it did do that,” she said.

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Universal Orlando says Epic Universe to open by summer 2025

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Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Orlando Sentinel.

Universal’s newest Orlando theme park, Epic Universe, is expected to open by summer 2025, executives for parent company Comcast said Thursday, as Universal Orlando reported record-setting earnings last quarter.

Epic Universe’s construction is “full steam ahead,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Jeff Shell said during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call. NBC Universal expects to invest about $1 billion in capital expenditures for the theme park this year, Chief Financial Officer Michael Cavanaugh said.

“Construction is going really well … we expect that park to open in ‘25, and certainly in time for the summer of ‘25,” Shell said.

Universal Orlando also just reported the “best quarter in the company’s history for any quarter,” said Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chairman and chief financial officer. The fourth quarter covered October through December 2021.

The Florida park’s success helped NBCUniversal report the company’s most profitable fourth quarter on record, Roberts said.

NBCUniversal’s theme park revenue increased by $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter compared with the same period in 2020, when all of its theme parks had limited capacity or were closed, the company noted. Universal Studios Beijing’s opening on Sept. 20, 2021, added to those earnings.

NBCUniversal reported nearly $1.9 billion in theme park revenue last quarter alone.

Its yearly revenue more than doubled from 2020 figures, from $2 billion to $5 billion, according to the report.

The omicron COVID variant had no impact on Universal Orlando, Shell said, and limited effects on the company’s theme parks in Hollywood and Japan.

“Everything’s kind of going in the right direction,” he said. “And even as we start the first quarter, continuing in that direction. I think part of that, by the way, is because we continue to invest in our attractions during the pandemic.”

Still, international theme park visitation has not returned to its historic levels at Universal Orlando, Shell said. The majority of international visitors are coming from the United Kingdom and Europe but visitation from Latin American countries has not rebounded.

Shell added that Universal is “very happy” with attendance at Universal Studios Beijing so far and expects that park’s crowds to increase further as China opens up travel.

“All signs are pointed up in our theme park business,” Shell said.

In response to a question about Epic Universe’s timeline, Roberts said he wishes he could retroactively slow down the development of Epic Universe as he reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the business.

“This is a business and if you build wonderful attractions, there is pent-up demand,” he said. “And we’re going to make a fabulous park at Epic, and we’re going as fast as we can now to make up for lost time.”

krice@orlandosentinel.com and @katievrice on Twitter

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Historic Seven Mile Bridge to Florida Keys open to cyclists, runners, walkers

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Photo credit: Julia Sanbe

The historic 7 mile bridge, better known as the “Old Seven,” has reopened following a major $44 million dollar restoration that commenced in 2016.

Located in Florida’s vacation hub of Key West, this picturesque, kodak-moment worthy structure which has greeted many tourists and achieved Hollywood stardom for its appearances in the blockbuster hit movies—1989 James Bond, “Licence to kill” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1994 “True Lies,” finally returned to the public on Jan 12, 2022.

Here at UM, the excitement is hard to hide.

Student Zoe Manz, a junior majoring in ecosystem science and policy, has been longing for the return of Old Seven since it’s closing in 2016.

“I live in Marathon where the 7-mile bridge is,” Manz said. “Everyone kind of forgot how nice it was to be able to walk there and see the sunset and the water.”

“I went and visited the bridge a couple days after the reopening before I came back up here to UM and it was a lot of fun. I walked there with my family, it was a good time seeing everyone walking on the bridge,” Manz continued.

Built in 1912, “Old Seven” spans 2.2 miles connecting the Middle Keys in Marathon FL, to a small island beneath the bridge called Pigeon Key. It essentially bridges the lower keys to the upper keys.

Old Seven is one of two bridges in Marathon as it precedes the contemporaneous “Seven Mile” that was built in 1982. The Seven Mile is currently open to automobiles while Old Seven is not. At the time of its arrival in the early 80s, it served as a smoother, wider, and higher replacement.

The two bridges parallel each other and are considered to be amongst the longest bridges in existence.

Madeline Wagner, a senior majoring in marine affairs and ecosystem science and policy with a minor in sustainable business, was enthralled by the Old Seven’s length when she visited.

“The structure of the bridge is just fascinating in ways that are obvious; it’s 7 miles long. I know my family took a trip to the keys just to drive across the 7 mile bridge.” Wagner said.

“It’s a Florida Keys treasure,” Wagner continued.

Originally built as a Key West extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida’s East Coast Railway, Old Seven was converted to a highway (Overseas Highway) in 1938, after the labor day hurricane of 1935, devastated the Keys section of the railroad.

But, by 2008, the bridge had accumulated ample wear and tear, posing potential dangers to automobile transportation. The Florida Department of Transportation since then limited the Bridge’s use strictly to recreational activities such as biking, skating, and walking.

The prohibition of cars from the structure invited locals and tourists to make Old Seven a spot of congregation and family fun.

Popular activities include group runs, family bike rides and slow strolls accompanied by captivating sunsets, and magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Manz reminisces on her childhood memories at Old Seven.

“When I was little, my mom would tell me stories of how she’d put me in a stroller and she and her friends would walk along the bridge with me. I used to go running on the bridge in high school with my sister,” Manz said.

Manz feels like she can speak for the community on the bridge shaping pivotal memories for locals.

“I feel like people that grew up living in the keys definitely have memories associated with the bridge,” Manz continued.

However, rusty railings, structural breakings, and decking failures appeared by 2016, fueling the need for a renovation of the landmark.

With state funding and a generous pitch-in of $2.7 million from Monroe County, the project began.

Locals and tourists have taken full advantage of this landmark over the years and more memories are to be made following the bridge’s reopening.

“It’s a really unique and fun place for people to gather, you see groups running on the bridge, friends riding bikes, tourists that walk over from a restaurant or like taking photos of the sunset.” Manz said.

“It’s just a really cool place that just kinda brings people together,” Manz continued.

Rather than rebuilding, the Old Seven was restored, preserving it’s rich historic appeal, just with a fresher feel and safer structure.

Wagner believes it was a virtuous decision to restore the Old Seven.

“Restoration preserves the nostalgia of a landmark,” Wagner said. “You wouldn’t rebuild the Statue of Liberty, you would restore it. There is so much history and memory associated with the bridge, it would have done it a disservice to build from the ground up.”

The restoration job includes structural steel, concrete, and bridge joint repairs, new decking, pedestrian handrails and benches, and newly paved roads with convenient mile markings.

To the cyclists, runners, walkers, sunset chasers, and ocean-view enthusiasts, be sure to pay Old Seven a visit.

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Canadian man gets 6 months for groping flight attendant

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MIAMI (AP) — A Canadian man has been sentenced to six months in U.S. federal prison for groping an American Airlines flight attendant.

Enio Socorro Zayas, 50, was sentenced Monday in Miami federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to assault in October.

According to a criminal complaint, Zayas was traveling on an American Airlines flight from Cancun, Mexico, to Miami International Airport in August when a flight attendant serving refreshments left snacks on Zayas’ lap because she believed he was asleep. Zayas then reached around his side, intentionally grabbed the woman on the back of the leg and moved his hand up to her buttocks, all without the flight attendant’s consent, investigators said.

After arriving in Miami, the flight attendant reported her encounter with Zayas, and several passengers corroborated her story, officials said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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