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Florida passes 26,000 COVID-19 cases as death toll continues to rise

The number of reported fatalities attributed to the virus has reached 791, including 97 in the Tampa Bay area.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Health authorities are preparing for a possible pandemic as they work to contain a respiratory illness in China that's caused by a new virus. Governments are working to contain the virus by limiting travel, isolating sick people and keeping travelers returning from the affected region under quarantine to watch for symptoms.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Health authorities are preparing for a possible pandemic as they work to contain a respiratory illness in China that's caused by a new virus. Governments are working to contain the virus by limiting travel, isolating sick people and keeping travelers returning from the affected region under quarantine to watch for symptoms. [ AP ]
Published Apr. 19, 2020|Updated Apr. 19, 2020

It’s been less than two months since the first positive coronavirus case was reported in Florida, yet by Sunday evening the state topped 26,000 confirmed cases.

The latest figures reported by the Florida Department of Health showed 26,314 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus that can lead to severe respiratory infections.

Over 24 hours, the state reported 26 new deaths related to the virus, bringing the total number of reported coronavirus fatalities to 791. That number includes 17 non-Florida residents who died in the state.

On Sunday, the health department said that 1,825 people who tested positive for the virus were employees or residents in a long-term elder care facility. Counted among that group are 179 who have died from the virus, which is about 22 percent of total COVID-19 deaths in the state.

Those numbers come a day after Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the health department to release the names of elder care facilities where residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. It was a reversal for the governor, who for weeks has refused to name the facilities despite increasing pressure from advocates and the families of residents living inside the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

A list of 303 long-term care facilities, released Saturday night, included 24 centers in Pinellas, four in Hillsborough and two in Pasco. On Sunday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health acknowledged that one facility — Stratford Court of Palm Harbor — had been added to the list by mistake and, in fact, has not reported any cases of COVID-19.

Yet even after Stratford Court was taken off the list, the number of affected facilities within Pinellas County is the fourth-highest in the state. Miami tops the list with 54 facilities infected by the coronavirus, followed by Broward County with 39 and Palm Beach with 36.

Freedom Square of Seminole, a sprawling retirement community at the center of an outbreak where three patients have died, announced Sunday that 39 patients and residents and 19 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and many more are awaiting testing. Michael Mason, the executive director of Freedom Square, said the company sought help from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County to “develop more aggressive mitigation strategies" to combat the spread of the virus.

The seven counties that make up the Tampa Bay area are home to 2,668 of the cases tracked by the health department, which includes residents and visitors diagnosed within the state as well as a small number of Floridians who were tested and isolated elsewhere, both the living and those who have died from the virus.

And while overall Florida’s testing has increased in the past week, the limited scale still means the actual number of people infected could be higher. By Sunday evening, Hillsborough County led the Tampa Bay area in the number of tracked cases with 960, followed by 592 cases in Pinellas, 417 cases in Manatee, 326 cases in Polk, 205 cases in Pasco, 84 in Hernando and 84 in Citrus.

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Manatee County has reported 32 fatalities, followed by 21 in Hillsborough, 17 in Pinellas, 12 in Polk, eight in Citrus, four in Hernando and three in Pasco.

The state — with a population more than 21 million, and a quarter of that being elderly residents — has now processed nearly 257,877 COVID-19 tests.

On Saturday, the health department conducted 10,306 tests for the virus. About 10 percent of those tests - 1,068 individual results - came back positive for COVID-19, according to state data.

But even though the number of infected Floridians continues to grow, the latest projections from national health experts show a significant decrease in the coronavirus’ anticipated death toll within the state, suggesting Florida may have passed its peak for related fatalities.

On Friday, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted Florida would see between 775 to 3,430 coronavirus-related deaths by May 29, with a median projected death toll of 1,363.

Just two weeks ago, that projected median was nearly 7,000 deaths by the same date.

Nationwide, the institute is predicting a median death toll of about 60,308 – but only if the stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures continue in their current form.

The good news comes at a time when both President Donald Trump and DeSantis have expressed renewed desires to restart the economy and send people back to work.

But on Saturday night, DeSantis assured that won’t be the case for Florida’s students, ordering all schools to continue virtual courses for the remainder of the academic year. The decision means that all spring sport events and practices have also been canceled.

“It’s obviously not the ideal situation, but given where we are in the school year, it seemed the best decision to go forward,” he said at an afternoon news conference.

How fast is the number of Florida COVID-19 cases growing?

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?

Florida coronavirus cases by age group

Doctors say older people are at a greater risk to developing severe symptoms from COVID-19, which makes Florida especially vulnerable.

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