Paulina Velasquez, a 15-year-old South Florida resident, is in a medically induced coma and has been placed on a ventilator after she tested positive for COVID-19.
Velasquez had reportedly planned to get vaccinated but had not yet received her first shot. Her severe condition has landed the teenager in the Broward Health Main Campus in Fort Lauderdale. Her mother, Agnieszka Velasquez, also recently tested positive for the virus after being fully vaccinated, but is experiencing more mild symptoms.
“I just want to tell people this virus is not a joke, it’s a real thing,” Tomas Velasquez told Terrell Forney of WPLG. He’s the brother of 15-year-old Paulina.
“Before this, my sister was 100% healthy. Fifteen-year-old girl, always wore her mask, never took it off in public and this still managed to happen.”
COVID-19 cases are surging in South Florida’s tri-county area. Palm Beach is seeing its highest case positivity rates — which measures the share of COVID-19 tests coming back positive — since July 2020. That was near the height of a summer outbreak which often saw dozens of patients die in a single day just in South Florida alone. Broward’s case positivity rate is the worst since Aug. 2020.
However, with vaccines now being widely available, the death toll has not reached those highs seen last summer. Across Florida and the U.S., upward of 97% of people who die or are hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
That means total deaths and hospitalizations will likely stay below peak levels unless a new, more deadly variant emerges in the U.S. That’s a distinct possibility if the virus continues to spread and mutate, experts warn. But even without that outcome, those who have not been vaccinated are still subject to the virus’s worst effects.
That includes 15-year-old Paulina, who was hit with the virus before getting her shot. Young people overall have been less susceptible to the virus’s worst effects, with the vast majority of deaths coming from older patients. But children are not wholly immune, and it’s still unclear what the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 might be.
“It’s very hard, my heart is broken into a million pieces,” said Paulina’s mom. “I keep asking God, why, why my daughter, why not me in that bed?”
In South Florida’s tri-county area, Palm Beach County has had the highest case positivity numbers over the last few weeks. It also has the lowest share of its 12-and-older population vaccinated. Miami-Dade County, which has the highest share of its population vaccinated, has the lowest case positivity rate among the region’s three major counties. Broward sits in the middle in both metrics.