Florida adds more than 1,200 coronavirus cases as death toll approaches 2,500

The state’s overall case total sits at 54,497 as people watch to see whether Floridians can avoid a second wave while reopening.
Feeding Tampa Bay volunteers carry boxes of food into waiting cars during a mega-pantry drive-through operation at the State College of Florida on Tuesday.
Feeding Tampa Bay volunteers carry boxes of food into waiting cars during a mega-pantry drive-through operation at the State College of Florida on Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 29, 2020|Updated May 30, 2020

Florida’s known death toll from the coronavirus rose to nearly 2,500 on Friday and its overall case total to more than 54,000.

Health officials reported 1,212 more infections in their latest update, the most this week, and 49 deaths. There have been 2,495 deaths and 54,497 cases overall, according to data publicly reported by the Florida Department of Health. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Florida’s first cases of the coronavirus almost three months ago.

The numbers follow a lull in newly reported infections and deaths over the Memorial Day holiday. Since the state began its phased reopening, health officials have not reported a spike or surge in cases like critics and some doctors warned might come when people began to move around again. But health specialists say it’s too soon to draw solid conclusions and warn that residents shedding masks and ignoring social distancing practices could result in a second wave of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The more than 1,200 cases announced Friday is a marked uptick from the several hundred reported in previous days this week, but the state has occasionally released bigger batches like this and says data updates are dependent on when the health department receives and reports results. A single-day total does not necessarily reflect real-time spread of the disease, and it does not signal a clear trend.

The latest average for death reports is about 32 per day. For reported infections it is about 721 per day.

The Friday numbers came as a theory spread on social media that Florida health officials had hidden the true coronavirus toll by misreporting deaths as being caused by pneumonia. Those allegations were not supported by facts, experts who study morbidity statistics told the Times.

Physicians from a hospital or the medical examiner’s office certify a person’s official cause of death, said Dr. Shamarial Roberson, deputy secretary for health in the Florida Department of Health. State officials, she said, gather data from that information.

“People who aren’t trained and don’t have experience with assessing these data from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can easily come away with very inaccurate conclusions," said Jeffrey Howard, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?

What’s going on in Tampa Bay?

The Department of Health’s Friday report listed 126 additional cases in Tampa Bay, including 50 in Hillsborough County, where leaders the day before heard about a recent rise that has so far tracked with an increase in testing but remains something to watch.

Health officials reported three new deaths in Hillsborough, along with one in Manatee, two in Pinellas and one in Polk, which has now seen 70 cases added in the past two days.

The newly reported deaths include a 67-year-old woman, 64-year-old woman and 85-year-old man in Hillsborough; an 88-year-old man in Manatee; an 86-year-old woman and 69-year-old woman in Pinellas; and an 88-year-old woman in Polk.

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What are the latest numbers on coronavirus in Tampa Bay?

Antibody tests

The state debuted new reporting Friday on antibody tests conducted to help epidemiologists better understand how many people in Florida may have a resistance to the disease from prior infection. With other respiratory illnesses, people who recover often carry some level of immunity. Doctors are still studying exactly how that works for COVID-19.

Because of limited early testing in the United States, public health officials believe a larger portion of the population was infected than is currently known. This pool might include people who were asymptomatic or who were just never formally diagnosed.

Of more than 123,000 people tested, the data show, 5,474 were positive for antibodies. That included 15 of 446 people in Citrus; 13 of 481 in Hernando; 197 of 6,174 in Hillsborough; 76 of 2,035 in Manatee; 37 of 2,021 in Pasco; 174 of 7,221 in Pinellas; and 60 of 1,291 in Polk.

Some antibody tests have suffered from reliability issues, and the health department’s report notes “the performance of the individual commercial laboratory tests used is not known.”

The data is supposed to be publicly updated once per week.

“If a person had a positive result and a negative result, they will be counted as positive,” the state notes.

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

Morning updates typically show low numbers for the current day.

Other testing and hospitalizations

The state is reporting COVID-19 tests for 984,160 people, just over 30,000 more than the day before.

It has provided information on 10,243 hospitalizations, just under 200 more than Thursday.

What about long-term care facilities?

A large portion of Florida’s deaths, 1,198, have involved residents or staff of long-term care facilities, according to the Department of Health.

That includes 63 people in Manatee County and 59 in Pinellas, data show.

Health officials in the most recent update for such facilities showed about 4,000 residents and nearly 2,100 staffers currently positive for the coronavirus. That data, however, does not clearly distinguish between new outbreaks and facilities that are accepting residents who were infected elsewhere.

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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the two-day total for cases added in Polk County.

Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed to this report.

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