Florida adds 8,942 new coronavirus cases Friday in record-setting high

Consumption of alcohol at bars is being suspended immediately
An unidentified MedExpress Urgent Care employee walks past a line of vehicles Friday, June 26, 2020 in Clearwater.
An unidentified MedExpress Urgent Care employee walks past a line of vehicles Friday, June 26, 2020 in Clearwater. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published June 26, 2020|Updated June 27, 2020

Florida blew past the previous single-day high for coronavirus cases on Friday, recording 8,942 new infections over the course of 24 hours, according to state Department of Health data.

That brings the total number of infections recorded over about four months of testing to 122,960 cases.

The previous single-day high came on Wednesday, when the state recorded 5,511 cases. That day was also a record high for new cases across the United States.

On Friday, the state also recorded 41 deaths, bringing the state total to 3,464 lives lost since the start of the pandemic. Hospitalizations also increased by 213 people, making it 14,281 people statewide who have had to be admitted to a hospital because of the virus.

The average daily deaths is now about 38 people a day. The number is up slightly but it has stayed mostly consistent with the average through June.

Gov Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said the surge in cases can be largely attributed to more testing, which he said again at a news conference on Friday.

“Obviously, a lot of news saying, ‘a huge number of, quote, cases,’” DeSantis said. “Really nothing has changed in the past week in terms of, we had a big test dump. Ten to 15 percent have been testing positive for really the last week.”

DeSantis noted that the percentage of positive cases has grown considerably since early June, when it was consistently under 5 percent. It was 13 percent on Friday.

At points during the news conference, DeSantis seemed to blame the spike on a lack of attention paid to the virus. Floridians took their eye off the ball in part because, he said, the news media covered it less amid national anti-racism protests.

”I would do press events in May, I would never be asked about coronavirus, it was about all these other things,” the governor said. But, in fact, reporters questioned him about it at every press briefing he held last month.

Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida, said it’s clear the virus is spreading faster and that increased testing is not the sole cause of that. She said Floridians who have let down their guard need to start taking the virus seriously.

“Without doing anything differently we’re going to see tens of thousands of new cases every day in short order,” Levine said.

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

What’s the picture across the state?

More than 1.77 million people across Florida have been tested so far, with young people making up the bulk of new cases. Though cases have been recorded for nearly four months, about 27 percent of all of Florida’s coronavirus infections have been recorded in the past seven days.

In the Friday press conference, DeSantis also said he didn’t believe a mask requirement would be effective, though he said his administration has been advised it would make an impact. He said the enforcement of criminal penalties for not wearing a mask may backfire.

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Some counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, have implemented their own mask requirements for people indoors.

DeSantis has attributed the rise in cases to younger Floridians, who he said are less likely to suffer dire effects. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing that any infection, regardless of the person’s age, makes the community less safe. Fauci said in areas with community spread, an infected person is likely to end up infecting more than one person.

Also on Friday, Hasley Beshears, the Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulation, announced in a tweet that effective immediately, the department would be suspending consumption of alcohol at bars statewide. This came days after DeSantis complained about crowded bars that were not following state guidelines.

In Texas, the governor announced bars would close and restaurants would roll back capacity because of spiking coronaviurs numbers. DeSantis has said before Florida will not roll back from Phase 2 of reopening.

The average percentage of daily tests that have come back positive is slightly higher in Florida than it is in Texas, according to Johns Hopkins University. Florida is also one of 22 states, including Puerto Rico, with positivity above the World Health Organization recommended guideline of five percent.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said percent positive is an important number to watch because now testing is more accessible to people than earlier in the pandemic. He said Florida’s number is concerning.

Though hospitalizations and deaths haven’t increased as dramatically, Swartzberg said those numbers lag behind case numbers by a few weeks. He said looking at the percent positive of tests is the most trustworthy way to note that the increase isn’t from more testing alone.

Levine said people should still exercise some caution in relying fully on percent positives because testing isn’t random. Targeted populations, like nursing home employees, are tested alongside people without symptoms.

Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?

What’s the picture in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay area recorded 1,607 cases and 12 deaths on Friday.

Five deaths were reported in Hillsborough, which also had the largest increase of cases in the area. Another four were recorded in Pinellas, and three were recorded in Polk County.

The deaths in Hillsborough are men whose ages were 45, 72 and 82 and women who were 84 and 101; in Pinellas, women who were 78, 90 and 96 years old and a 22-year-old man; and in Polk men who were 68, 87 and 88 years old.

Damon Brenton, chief investigator with the District Six Medical Examiner Office, said the cause of death of the 22-year-old is still pending while other tests are conducted.

Only five people under the age of 24 have died statewide. Last Saturday, the state recorded the death of a 17-year-old in Pasco County. Another 17-year-old in Fort Myers also died.

As of the latest counts, Hillsborough has 8,018 cases and 135 deaths; Pinellas has 5,009 cases and 143 deaths; Polk has 2,780 cases and 88 deaths; Manatee has 2,368 cases and 130 deaths; Pasco has 1,326 cases and 18 deaths; Hernando has 260 cases and six deaths; and Citrus has 240 cases and 12 deaths.

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.

The numbers are high. What does that mean for the next few weeks?

While some people in the state were shocked by the nearly 9,000 new cases Friday, Levine, said the surge had to be expected when looking at Florida’s recent trends.

“These are not usual times - people are dying and it’s a disease that results from the effects of what we do or we don’t do individually,” she said.

New York, long considered an epicenter for coronavirus infection in the United States, hasn’t seen a day with more than 9,000 cases since April 25, according to the New York Times. Recently, New York imposed a 14-day quarantine for all travelers coming from Florida. DeSantis did the same for travelers coming from New York to Florida months before. At its peak, New York saw daily deaths in the hundreds.

Levine said an easy comparison the two can’t be made. Because people in Florida got to see how the pandemic played out in New York, she believes older and at-risk people are distancing themselves and taking it upon themselves to avoid going out into the community.

“That’s the strange thing about pandemics, it plays out differently in different places and at different times,” she said.

Deaths and hospitalizations will go up, though, if people don’t take actions to limit the spread of the virus, Levine said. Those numbers lag behind the number of cases -- which lag behind changes in when people start to move around.

Hospitalization lags behind changes in people’s movement by about three weeks, Levine said. That means the numbers now are tied to three weeks ago, and any change made immediately may not make noticeable impact in the community for weeks.

People have to take precautions like wearing masks and social distancing or risk overwhelming the state healthcare system in the coming weeks, Levine said. In Houston, the Texas Medical Center projected their ICU capacity would run out because of the surge in coronavirus patients.

Though those testing positive are younger, Levine said young people could still be at risk if they have other health issues, and more will end up in the hospital.

“Without scaring the public, we need to be concerned that we don’t know who if they’re exposed might end up in the hospital, in an ICU, or even dying regardless of their age,” she said.

• • •

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