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Florida reports jump in deaths as nation reports more than 1 million cases of coronavirus

Florida’s increase in deaths Tuesday is likely part of a trend in how the state reports its data.
Nurse Maria Charri, left, wears personal protective equipment as she hugs Osmar Grave, 73, as they sing along to live music at a temporary quarantine and isolation facility for the homeless during the new coronavirus pandemic, Monday in North Miami. This location houses people age 60 and older who were living in shelters, on the street or were known to have health issues making them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Nurse Maria Charri, left, wears personal protective equipment as she hugs Osmar Grave, 73, as they sing along to live music at a temporary quarantine and isolation facility for the homeless during the new coronavirus pandemic, Monday in North Miami. This location houses people age 60 and older who were living in shelters, on the street or were known to have health issues making them vulnerable to COVID-19. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Apr. 28, 2020
Updated Apr. 28, 2020

Florida reported a record 83 new deaths from the novel coronavirus Tuesday as the United States reached its own somber milestone of more than 1 million diagnosed cases.

The United States has the most reported infections of the coronavirus in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Florida’s official death toll climbed to 1,191 Tuesday as the state reached 32,846 confirmed cases of the highly infectious disease.

The jump in deaths came a day after only 14 new deaths were reported, so the high increase is likely an issue with how the state reports its data.

A Tampa Bay Times analysis found that the state has regularly reported fewer new deaths on Sundays and Mondays, as low as half of what would be expected based on weekly averages.

In less than three months, the United States has reported more than 52,000 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

By comparison, an estimated 34,000 people died from the influenza during the 2018-19 flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although some other years have seen higher or lower estimated death totals.

Florida’s deaths are currently doubling roughly every 16 days. That’s a quicker rate than states like Georgia, New York and Louisiana.

Still, Florida is about the middle of the pack among states when it comes to the number of deaths per 100,000 people. The New York tri-state area has seen the largest numbers of coronavirus-related deaths per capita. Although Florida is the third-largest state, some smaller states like Michigan and Illinois have reported higher numbers of deaths.

Certainly, Florida’s coronavirus outbreak has not been as high as some had initially feared, likely due in part to social distancing and other measures. Death totals have not been as high as some early models had suggested, and hospitals in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere have not reported a strain on capacity due to the coronavirus.

“Florida has ramped up testing, hospitalizations remain low and we are on a path to safely reopening our economy,” touts a video tweeted this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Since the start of the outbreak in Florida, more than 5,400 people have been hospitalized. That number could include people who have recovered or are deceased.

The state has said it does not have a figure for current hospitalizations. However, during a press conference Monday, DeSantis said that there are only 35 people in Hillsborough County hospitals with coronavirus symptoms.

Fourteen of Tuesday’s newly reported deaths come from the greater Tampa Bay region, with Pinellas County alone reporting six new deaths compared to Monday.

Hillsborough County has 1,080 confirmed cases of the virus and 24 deaths. That includes the newly reported death of an 81-year-old man.

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Pinellas County has 709 known cases and 32 deaths. It reported the deaths of women aged 98, 94, 78, 101 and 93 years old, as well as a 97-year-old man. Those people did not necessarily die Tuesday; It is just the first time the state publicly reported their deaths in its statistics.

Pasco has 239 cases and six deaths, including the newly reported death of a 92-year-old woman. Hernando has 89 cases and remained at five deaths.

Manatee County — which has the state’s fourth-most reported deaths, behind the three South Florida counties of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade — reported four new deaths. That brings its death total to 47.

Among the newly reported deaths in Manatee County are women aged 57, 77, 95 and 98 years old. That county has 563 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Polk County has 457 cases and 20 deaths, including those of 81- and 91-year-old women. Citrus County has 97 cases and 11 deaths.

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 numbers are likely an undercount of the total infections in the state. Some people who may have contracted the virus may never get tested. Limited testing and delays could add to an undercount.

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

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

As Florida weighs when and how to reopen its economy, a key consideration will be getting a handle on just who may be infected.

And with about 1.7 percent of the state’s population tested so far, health officials and others say a ramp-up of testing is key.

As of Tuesday, 367,435 people statewide have been tested for the novel coronavirus, with about a 9 percent positive rate.

Rates of testing vary depending on the area. In the greater Tampa Bay area, Hernando County has tested roughly 0.8 percent of its total population, while Pinellas County has tested about 1.4 percent.

Florida ranks third among states in total tests conducted, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. But per capita, it falls to the middle of the pack.

On Monday, Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College for Medicine, said that the state needs to be testing 150 people for 100,000 residents every day.

Related: Eight weeks later, DeSantis returns to a changed Tampa Bay stunted by COVID-19

Florida is not anywhere near that. On Tuesday, the state reported 10,407 more test results than the day prior, which is about 49 per 100,000 residents.

Testing per day rose quickly during March as the state brought in private labs to help with increased capacity. The number of tests per day stayed relatively steady at about 10,000 per day for a couple of weeks, and now appears to be increasing again.

There are varying reasons why testing hasn’t been higher, including limited supplies in some areas, sometimes restrictive guidelines on who is eligible to be tested and potential confusion or aversion by some people about getting tested.

Related: Hillsborough has the tests; now it needs people to get tested

The spread of the infection among at-risk populations like prisons and long-term care facilities is something that is being closely tracked. An infection in such facilities could quickly spread in close quarters; the virus is also known to pose a greater health risk to those that are older or with underlying health conditions.

On Monday, after weeks of hesitation, the state began publishing a list of all the nursing homes, assisted-living and other long-term care facilities that have a reported case of the virus, along with how many cases they have among residents and staff.

More than 400 facilities were on the list as of Tuesday, with 14 new facilities added from only a day earlier. The state reported 2,333 infections among residents, including some that have been transferred out to hospitals or elsewhere. It said there are 1,213 infections among staff.

The list does not include any cases that are no longer positive. It also does not include a facility-by-facility breakdown of deaths. However, a different dataset from the state said Tuesday there have been 369 reported deaths in such facilities.

Related: Florida releases data on number of COVID-19 cases in each nursing home, assisted living facility

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 writer Langston Taylor contributed to this report.

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