Florida’s surge in coronavirus cases continued on Thursday, with deaths and hospitalizations hitting record daily levels as the state’s hospitals reported their intensive care beds were filling up fast -- including at Tampa General Hospital, which reported all 105 in its facility as occupied.
Of the 120 deaths reported statewide Thursday, 40 were in the Tampa Bay area, including 19 in Hillsborough County. That’s the most deaths any local county has reported in one day since coronavirus deaths began being recorded in the state in March.
The state deaths included an 11-year-old Broward girl, the second 11-year-old child to die from the coronavirus in the state in the last week. The girl, Yansi Ayala, had cerebral palsy and other health issues, according to South Florida news outlets.
The growing numbers had health experts concerned about what’s to come, especially considering hospitalizations and deaths lag behind high case numbers by weeks.
“We’re not over this at all,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida. “If we’re going to really flatten this curve it’s going to require everybody doing their part.”
The deaths recorded Thursday bring the total victims of the pandemic statewide to 4,111.
The previous single-day high for deaths was 113 people recorded in early May, part of which resulted from the Department of Health including non-Florida residents in its count that day, including some that appeared to die within the state weeks earlier. No other day has come close to passing that May record.
The weekly average deaths from coronavirus in Florida is now about 56 a day. In the past week, the state has recorded 393 deaths.
The state also added 8,935 new infections, bringing the total to 232,718 people who have had coronavirus since recording began in March.
The state also broke its record for hospitalizations by adding 411 over 24 hours. The previous high for new hospitalizations was an increase of 400 people, recorded in mid-May.
Across the state, about 14 percent of ICU beds are available, according to the Agency for Healthcare Administration. About 17,500 people have had to seek hospitalization because of the virus.
Cindy Prins, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said it takes two or three weeks for cases to be identified after a point of transmission. It takes longer after that to see hospitalizations and deaths rise. She said the numbers now are likely the result of the jump in cases from mid to late June -- and that the large number of positive cases still being identified is a cause for concern.
“I don’t know what the stopping point is,” she said.
How fast is the number of Florida COVID-19 cases growing?
What’s the picture statewide?
As cases, deaths and hospitalizations rise statewide, the percentage of tests coming back positive has also consistently been above the World Health Organization recommended level of 5 percent for when governments should consider reopening.
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Florida is averaging about 19 percent of coronavirus tests coming back positive, the third highest percentage of any state, behind Arizona and Mississippi, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In a press conference earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he felt coronavirus was stabilized in Florida, but wanted to get positivity levels lower, like they were in May and early June when average levels were around 5 percent.
Prins said the high positivity is worrying, especially since it has stayed at about the same level in Florida whether testing has swelled or decreased over the last few weeks. To her, that means the testing isn’t widespread enough and positive cases are going unidentified. Unlike when testing was done months ago only to symptomatic people and it was expected that positive tests would be high, now a more general spread of the population is getting tested.
“If we do increase testing by quite a bit and we find that the percent positivity comes down, then maybe we can start to feel like okay, now we’re starting to understand we are capturing people who are positive,” Prins said.
Until then, she fears the positive people who aren’t identified will continue widespread community transmission of the virus.
Along with the 11-year-old who died from the virus, one additional death recorded Thursday was someone between the ages of 15 and 24, the ninth death recorded in the state for that age group.
Prins said though politicians have emphasized how younger people are making up a large share of the new positive cases compared to previous months, cases in people age 65 and over have continued to grow, too. The number of cases in that age group doubled in June from where they were in March, April and May combined, she said.
In the next few weeks, Prins hopes to determine if mask ordinances have made a noticeable dent in cases, though she understands those ordinances may not have teeth because enforcement varies. Looking at how numbers changed after the state stopped allowing alcohol at bars June 26 also interests her.
“My worry with the bars is, that I think that was a good move, but then what happens you send people kind of underground, they go home and have parties,” she said.
Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?
What’s the picture in Tampa Bay?
In addition to the 40 deaths, the Tampa Bay area added 1,693 cases on Thursday.
In addition to Hillsborough’s 19 deaths, Pinellas recorded 12, Polk recorded five, Manatee recorded three and Pasco recorded one.
Hillsborough also saw the highest increase in hospitalizations for any county in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday. Pinellas normally has the highest number of hospitalizations added in the region each day.
The deaths reported Thursday included four women ages 61, 78, 84 and 97 in Hillsborough along with 15 men whose ages were 55, 61, 64, 66, 69, 69, 76, 77, 77, 77, 79, 82, 83, 88 and 88. In Pinellas, those who died included three women whose ages were 61, 87 and 90 and eight men who were ages 32, 42, 47, 63, 64, 83, 85 and 90. In Manatee, the deaths included a 76-year-old woman and two men ages 69 and 92. Pasco recorded the death of an 84-year-old woman. Polk reported deaths included a 76-year-old man and three women ages 63, 76 and 83.
Testing continues across the area. At a new testing location at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, 800 people were tested, said Tom Iovino, a spokesman for the Pinellas County Department of Health. The facility was prepared with 1,200 tests for the day, but closed about two hours early to make sure they could accommodate all the cars in line, Iovino said.
As of the latest counts, Hillsborough has 16,666 cases and 186 deaths; Pinellas has 9,826 cases and 223 deaths; Polk has 5,895 cases and 128 deaths; Manatee has 4,266 cases and 140 deaths; Pasco has 3,330 cases and 28 deaths; Hernando has 708 cases and seven deaths; and Citrus has 469 cases and 13 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.
What’s going on with hospitalizations?
As of Thursday afternoon, The Agency for Health Care Administration reported that about 14 percent of Florida’s ICU beds were available, with about 20 percent of overall hospital beds available across the state.
In the Tampa Bay area, about 9 percent of ICU beds and 16 percent of all hospital beds were available.
Tampa General’s 105 ICU beds are the most in the area, followed by St. Joseph’s Hospital, which only had two ICU beds open Thursday.
“I know the hospitals have been planning with the county for what’s called surge,” Levine said. “That’s the ability to ramp up when any one facility or multiple facilities meet their maximum capability.”
Though the elderly are most at risk, young people can get severely sick or die from the virus. Thirty-one percent of hospitalizations have been people 54 and younger, more than 5,500 people across the state; 7 percent of deaths statewide are in that age group
The Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group has noted the share of older people in hospitals had gone up, Levine said. But as cases continue to rise, more young people will likely be admitted, including people with underlying issues like obesity.
“As the disease spreads, the probability of someone catching it who has an underlying condition goes up,” Levine said.
Prins said if coronavirus cases continue to increase, hospitals may either reach capacity or have to alter their plans to care for coronavirus patients, forcing hospitals to stop elective surgeries and other procedures.
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