Coronavirus in Florida: Two new deaths in Manatee and Broward, almost half of cases involve people 60 or older

A report newly released by the state offers the fullest picture yet of the disease’s known spread.
Dr. Ilene Robeck, M.D., right, 69, speaks to a small group about the recent coronavirus outbreak last Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic - Health Center.
Dr. Ilene Robeck, M.D., right, 69, speaks to a small group about the recent coronavirus outbreak last Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic - Health Center. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published March 17, 2020|Updated March 18, 2020

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Nearly half of the known coronavirus cases being tracked by Florida health officials involve people 60 or older — an age group that doctors say is most at-risk to the disease — and two more Floridians have died, a 77-year-old man from a Broward County assisted-living facility and a person in Manatee County.

The latest updates from health officials reinforce growing concern in a state considered especially vulnerable to the pandemic given it has a larger share of residents in their 70s, 80s or older than any other in America.

"The eye of this storm is disproportionately focused on our most vulnerable,” said Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, on Monday, specifically referencing the “elderly and medically frail.”

Florida health officials as of late Tuesday evening had tracked 216 known cases of coronavirus, including 21 visitors isolated in the state and six Floridians who were diagnosed elsewhere. The latest update did not include the ages of the newest patients. Earlier in the day the state had reported 192 cases. As of then, 29 patients were listed as between 70 and 79 years old and 11 as 80 or older.

Local officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis have in the last week announced a series of cancellations and restrictions on public activities that were incomprehensible for most residents at the start of the month. The disease, known as COVID-19, caused massive shutdowns in China and Italy before it began to bind American life.

The governor on Tuesday gave his strongest directives yet — ordering some bars to close for 30 days, restaurants to operate at half capacity and state universities to move to online classes for the rest of the semester.

The number of coronavirus cases tracked by Florida rose by 56 cases Tuesday. Among the new patients were three Hillsborough County men, ages 23, 28 and 30. Health officials reported it was not yet clear if either had traveled to places with outbreaks of coronavirus.

The illness brings symptoms including cough and shortness of breath and can lead to severe respiratory infections, especially for the elderly and those with chronic health trouble. As such, Florida leaders have instituted a month-long ban on nearly all visitors to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The tally of coronavirus cases is assuredly an undercount because of limited testing in the United States. Further, DeSantis has said some people could be carrying the disease without severe symptoms, including younger residents who might not seek testing. As of Tuesday morning, nine people under the age of 19 have tested positive, according to the latest state report, along with 25 people between 20 and 29 years old.

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Health officials have reported that visits to emergency departments from people reporting a cough have ticked up in the past two weeks.

The biggest share of known cases in Florida is tied to Broward County — 55 patients, or 25 percent. Miami-Dade is connected to another 44 cases, including one resident isolated outside of Florida, according to the Department of Health.

In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough has nine cases, Pinellas has four and Pasco has two. Those include patients who traveled to Colorado, New York, Ireland, Egypt and Italy. According to the latest state data, the case of a 17-year-old boy in Hillsborough County did not involve either travel or contact with a person confirmed to have the disease. Additionally, health officials were still investigating whether the case of a 58-year-old Pinellas County man had any connection to travel. That man, according to the state, did not have contact with other people known to be infected with the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when patients do not know how they might have contracted the coronavirus, that is a sign of “community spread."

Testing in Florida has increased as private labs and hospitals develop and obtain equipment, supplementing the work of local health departments and state labs.

The state reported 506 tests in Broward, including 226 that had not returned a result as of Tuesday evening.

Hillsborough reported 62 tests, including 21 awaiting a result; Pinellas had 144 tests including 106 awaiting a result; and Pasco had 37 tests including 16 awaiting a result. Hernando County had 16 tests, up from just four Tuesday morning, and all were awaiting results.

With private providers like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp now running samples, the state said there might be a delay in reporting some results.

Times/Herald staff writers Emily L. Mahoney and Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

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