Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at tampabay.com/subscribe.
• • •
The Department of Health is now reporting 314 known coronavirus cases involving Floridians or visitors diagnosed in the state.
That includes 13 cases of the disease, COVID-19, associated with Hillsborough County and 10 with Pinellas County. Pasco has 3. Broward County is connected to the most reports: 80. Seven Floridians have died.
As of Tuesday evening, the state had announced just 216 cases — making the morning update the biggest surge yet in reports of the disease in Florida.
The number of positive cases in Pinellas more than doubled from the same time Tuesday. All involve Florida residents. One of the new patients is a 61-year-old woman who recently traveled to New York.
In Hillsborough, 11 of the 13 positive cases involve Florida residents.
Pasco County also added a case in the last day.
Note: The numbers in this chart are updating as new cases come in. The numbers in this story are from the morning of March 18.
The surge in numbers may be as much about expanded testing in Florida as the actual spread of the disease, said Dr. Marissa Levine, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida.
“It’s really hard to tell the difference at this point,” she said.
The United States has drawn criticism for its limited early testing on coronavirus, which makes it more difficult to measure the disease’s spread.
Levine did not want to guess how much Florida’s caseload will grow, but said people should already be following recommendations about washing hands and avoiding crowds
“Don’t worry as much about the actual number of cases. We know it’s here, we know what it is, and we know what to do about it,” she said. “The numbers aren’t necessarily going to change what an individual has to do at this point.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has in the last week announced a series of far-reaching measures to increase “social distancing” here, meaning keeping people away from large groups where they can easily transmit the disease. On Tuesday, he placed heavy restrictions on restaurants, ordered a month-long closure of bars that do not sell food and announced state testing would not happen this semester for K-12 students.
The goal is to “flatten the curve," a term that has suddenly taken root in common culture. Doctors say it means accepting personal responsibility and adopting widespread social changes to stop the spread of the disease, which can cause a cough, fever and severe respiratory infections. In practice, it means isolating ourselves in a fashion that has upended American life, from suspended major sports leagues to closed churches and mosques to classrooms shuttered in favor of online learning.
The curve, visually, is the number of coronavirus cases added to an area each day. Florida’s curve is still going up.
The state is considered especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 because it has a greater share of residents in their 70s, 80s or older than any other in America. Doctors say the elderly and those with chronic health conditions are especially susceptible to the illness. Leaders here have banned nearly all visitors to elder care facilities in an attempt to stop the disease from entering such risky spaces. On Tuesday, the governor announced a 77-year-old man at a Broward County assisted living facility had COVID-19 before he died.
The latest data show that a significant chunk of cases connected with Florida involve patients 60 or older, a group that experts say includes people who should exercise particular caution in the face of the pandemic. DeSantis has repeatedly said he believes younger residents who do not experience serious symptoms are not diagnosed because they do not seek out testing. Supply shortages and strict criteria have also meant that much of the early testing has only been available to those at the highest risk.
Florida on Wednesday announced its youngest patient yet, a 6-year-old boy in Palm Beach County.
Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed to this report.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.
STORES REACT TO VIRUS: Some businesses adjust hours or announce temporary closings.
STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.
JOIN THE FACEBOOK GROUP: See updates and tips posts, and ask questions of our journalists.
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporter.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.