MIAMI (AP) — More than 40 Florida hospitals are facing staffing shortages as infections and hospitalizations continue to rise fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Hospital groups say there are growing concerns as more medical staff gets infected with the virus even after being vaccinated, and doctors and nurses need to be isolated and off duty.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Though coronavirus infections have surged in Florida as omicron becomes the dominant strain, deaths in the state have continued to decline — to their lowest levels since the pandemic was just getting started in early 2020.

Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest hospitals in the state, said that this variant was infecting more staff members, requiring them to be isolated and off work.

Senior also said that although as many as 50% patients in some networks were arriving at the hospital for other ailments or procedures and then testing positive for COVID-19, those cases were still difficult to manage.

“They are really labor intensive. To prevent further infections, they tend to be an immense amount of work that is very tedious,” Senior said.

Hospitalizations rose from about 5,000 COVID patients to about 8,500 over the past week, according to federal government data. Cases in the state have continued to rise, reaching an average of 56,759 daily cases on Thursday, CDC data shows.

Meanwhile, Florida’s seven-day average in deaths is at its lowest level since March 2020, with four deaths per day.

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