Florida coronavirus deaths surpass 1,000 as cases reach 29,648

The state reported new deaths Thursday in Manatee, Pinellas and Polk counties.
Healthcare workers talk with a patient before collecting a sample during a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Adventure Island Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in Tampa. The site will be opened for 30 days and features a testing collection method with saliva with results back to the patient in 2-3 days.
Healthcare workers talk with a patient before collecting a sample during a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of Adventure Island Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in Tampa. The site will be opened for 30 days and features a testing collection method with saliva with results back to the patient in 2-3 days. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published April 23, 2020|Updated April 24, 2020

It has been 53 days since Florida reported its first known cases of the coronavirus.

In that time, nursing homes have shut out visitors, the state’s beaches have largely been closed to keep big groups from congregating and millions have found themselves unemployed as businesses shut down or reduce staff.

Now the number of known deaths has surpassed 1,000, while the number of confirmed cases has nearly reached 30,000.

The state reported Thursday that the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus shot up by more than a thousand to 29,648, including 80 new cases reported in the greater Tampa Bay region. The death toll is 1,006, including a small number of non-Florida residents.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that two more residents of a nursing home in the Freedom Square of Seminole retirement community have died of the coronavirus, bringing the COVID-19 death toll in that community to seven.

Donald Jack, 74, died Tuesday at Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office. Christopher Pugh, 84, died late Wednesday at Suncoast Hospice Care Center North Pinellas.

At least 54 residents and 33 employees have tested positive in that community, and more tests are pending. Residents were evacuated from the nursing home facility on April 17, and seven more residents tested positive this week in the community’s other buildings.

Long-term care facilities are of particular concern during this pandemic not only because of the close quarters in which the residents live but because older people and people with underlying health issues are at greater risk for being severely impacted by the disease.

The state said Thursday that 2,481 known cases of the virus had been confirmed among residents or staff of long-term care facilities and that those facilities had seen 271 deaths. It is likely those numbers are also an undercount.

Since the start of the outbreak in Florida, more than 4,800 people have been hospitalized. That number could include people who have recovered or are deceased.

More than 301,700 people have been tested for the virus, with rates of testing varying depending by county. Overall, about 1.4 percent of the state’s population has been tested.

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

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

Thursday’s increase in new cases belied what had been a general slowdown in Florida. The number of new cases each day has been trending downward in the past couple of weeks, although there have been some single-day spikes. Thursday’s increase was the highest daily increase in nearly a week.

Deaths continued rising Thursday, with the 61 new reported deaths tying Wednesday’s update for the second-highest daily increase in deaths from the coronavirus to date.

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As local and state officials debate when to start relaxing some of the restrictions put in place amid the pandemic, experts say it’s important to watch the numbers of cases and deaths carefully.

“The question now is what will happen next?” said Dr. Sally Alrabaa, an infectious disease specialist at the University of South Florida. “Are we going to start descending? Or will things go in the opposite direction and we’ll see what’s called a second wave?”

Any reopening of the state’s economy should be done carefully, Alrabaa said. She said she understands that people may be suffering and be without income. But she added that the number of cases must be carefully watched.

“We can’t wait too long to mitigate and do something if we see the trend going in the wrong direction,” she said.

Certainly, Florida does not appear to have been hit as hard as some other states. Although it is the third-largest state in the country, some smaller states have reported higher death tolls and positive cases of the coronavirus, including Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Yet the Sunshine State has seen hot spots of the virus and has reported deaths in 47 of its 67 counties.

On Thursday, the state reported five new deaths in Manatee County — of an 84-year-old man, two 80-year-old women, a 75-year-old woman and a 61-year-old woman.

Pinellas County reported two new deaths: 84-year-old and 95-year-old men. And the state also reported the death of an 84-year-old Polk County man.

Manatee County is reporting 473 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 40 deaths. It has the highest number of deaths in the region despite being smaller than some nearby counties.

Related: 15th in population, Manatee ranks fourth in coronavirus deaths

Pinellas County has outpaced Hillsborough County for the number of reported coronavirus deaths, with 24 known deaths and 656 known cases of the virus.

Hillsborough County surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and stayed at 23 reported deaths; Pasco County has 221 reported cases and three deaths and Hernando County has 83 known cases and four deaths.

The state said Polk County has 379 known cases of the virus and 17 deaths, while Citrus County has nine deaths and 94 known cases.

What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?

The state’s case tracking includes residents and visitors diagnosed in Florida as well as a small number of Floridians who were tested and isolated elsewhere.

The number of cases of the coronavirus reported by the state is likely an undercount, given limited testing, testing delays and the likelihood that some people who may have the coronavirus will never be tested.

Related: Sixth and seventh COVID-19 deaths tied to Seminole nursing home

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.

Times staff writers Kathryn Varn and Langston Taylor contributed to this report.

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