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On Florida’s first day of reopening, the state reports 20 new coronavirus deaths

The state recorded 819 new cases of the virus as it moved to restart the economy.
Ambassadors of Clearwater Beach meet for instruction before deploying throughout the beach corridor to inform visitors to the beach about the social distancing rules which remain in place as Pinellas County beaches are opened to the public on Monday after being closed since March 20.
Ambassadors of Clearwater Beach meet for instruction before deploying throughout the beach corridor to inform visitors to the beach about the social distancing rules which remain in place as Pinellas County beaches are opened to the public on Monday after being closed since March 20. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 4, 2020
Updated May 4, 2020

After more than a month of shutdown, much of the state reopened Monday with Floridians allowed to dine inside restaurants, visit white sand beaches and shop at non-essential retailers.

But as the state moves to restart its fractured economy, the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow by the hundreds.

Florida on Monday saw 819 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total of reported infections to 36,897.

The state reported 20 new deaths, including three in the Tampa Bay region. The statewide death toll now stands at 1,423.

Monday morning updates have tended to have lower death increases than other days of the week, a Tampa Bay Times analysis has shown.

Across the state, reported deaths are continuing to increase at a steady pace. More than a third of the fatalities, or 497, from the virus have been among residents or staff of long-term care facilities. That number has continued to inch upward in recent weeks.

Overall, the rate at which confirmed coronavirus cases are growing has slowed statewide.

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

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

Together, the three-county area of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have formed the state’s epicenter for the epidemic. Those counties aren’t part of Monday’s reopening and will remain under stay-at-home orders.

Since the end of March, cities in those counties have seen huge increases in cases. While the growth rates are slowing, between April 17 and May 1, confirmed cases in Miami increased overall by 50 percent, according to a Times analysis of state data tracking cases among Florida residents.

Looking at the week-over-week increase from April 24 to May 1 alone, cases increased by about 20 percent among Miami residents.

Locally, the biggest increases are seen among residents in small cities with smaller overall case numbers. Some of those places have seen significant outbreaks.

Palmetto, a city with a population below 14,000 in Manatee County, recorded the biggest percentage increase in cases since the end of March. And in the two-week period from April 17 to May 1, the city saw confirmed infections in residents more than double, bringing total infections to 101.

Manatee County leads the Tampa Bay region in reported coronavirus deaths with 60, even though it’s much smaller than Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. At least some of those deaths can be attributed to outbreaks at nursing homes in the county, including one in Palmetto.

Among larger cities in the region with more than 100 confirmed cases, Lakeland (207) and Bradenton (412) saw the biggest jump in cases among residents from April 17 to May 1, with their numbers nearly doubling. From April 24 to May 1, the most current week of data included in the Times analysis, those two cities and St. Petersburg saw the biggest percentage increases in cases among residents.

During that time, cases in St. Petersburg residents grew by 22 percent, reaching 230. By comparison, the region’s largest city, Tampa, saw cases grow by 13 percent, reaching 756 by May 1.

What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?

Hillsborough County continues to be the leader across Tampa Bay for coronavirus cases with 1,300 confirmed infections. It has recorded 31 deaths, including new ones Monday: two women, aged 63 and 73.

Pinellas also reported a new death, a 98-year-old man, bringing its total death count attributed to the virus to 43. It has 784 cases.

Across the remainder of the region, Polk has 536 cases and 26 deaths; Pasco has 282 cases and eight deaths; Citrus has 99 cases and 11 deaths; and Hernando has 96 cases and six deaths.

Florida joined South Carolina to partially reopen Monday, following several other southern states who reopened last week.

The reopenings have come amid a push from the Trump administration for states to begin to restart their economies. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting that per-day coronavirus deaths in the United States could nearly double by June 1, reaching around 3,000 fatalities a day, according to an internal document obtained by the New York Times and detailed in a news report Monday.

The document includes a heat map tracking new cases in the United States that shows much of Florida experiencing a decline in coronavirus case rates but patches where rates are moderately increasing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis praised Florida’s response to the virus while announcing his reopening plan last week. During his press conference, DeSantis presented slides with charts comparing Florida’s coronavirus fatality and hospitalization rates to Italy and hard-hit states in America.

He criticized the academic models that predicted Florida could face among the most catastrophic effects in the United States from the virus. He chided journalists for reporting on the models before he outlined his reopening plan.

Health experts that reviewed DeSantis’ plan said it was a balanced effort to get the state back to work. But most agreed it’s too early to implement it.

Experts say widespread testing is a key element to a safe reopening, but overall, Florida has tested only about 2 percent of its population. As of Monday, the state reported 444,814 people having been tested.

The state has not come close to testing at the rate that some experts recommend. DeSantis said increased testing will coincide with the state’s reopening.

Just over 8 percent of coronavirus tests statewide have come back positive.

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 Connie Humburg, Langston Taylor and Allison Ross contributed to this report.

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