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Florida reports a record 156 coronavirus deaths, record 72 in Tampa Bay

The state also recorded nearly 14,000 additional coronavirus infections, and Hillsborough had a record 40 deaths.
Vicki Apple, 58, of Lutz, is reflected in her mirror as Michelle Ingram, 52, hands Apple 10 masks at Lake Park Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Lutz. Hillsborough County began to distribute free face masks on Wednesday and will continue at several locations for the coming days.
Vicki Apple, 58, of Lutz, is reflected in her mirror as Michelle Ingram, 52, hands Apple 10 masks at Lake Park Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Lutz. Hillsborough County began to distribute free face masks on Wednesday and will continue at several locations for the coming days. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jul. 16, 2020
Updated Jul. 17, 2020

The Tampa Bay area accounted for a record breaking 72 coronavirus deaths reported on Thursday, nearly half of an all-time high day for deaths and hospitalizations in Florida.

In a 24 hour period, 156 people were reported to have died from COVID-19 in Florida Thursday, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. That figure surpassed the previous record high of 133 deaths, which was reported on Tuesday. Hillsborough County accounted for most of the deaths in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday with 40, the most any county in the area has reported in one day since the pandemic began.

Pinellas County, which had broken the record on Tuesday by reporting 26 deaths, added another 16 on Thursday while Pasco County reported four.

“I think the expectation is that the number of deaths is going to continue to climb,” said Jennifer Tolbert, the director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “By how much I think remains somewhat of an open question.”

The seven-day death average continued to spike across the state, from 91 people per day up to 96. Since March, 4,782 people have died from the virus in Florida. Hospitalizations also hit a record high with 495 admissions, bringing the total increase in hospital treatment because of coronavirus up to 20,154.

Nearly 14,000 new cases were logged on Thursday which included 13,965 new infections. The state’s total since the pandemic began is now 315,775 cases, according to the health department. The number of tests processed on Thursday leapt to more than 115,000, with the day’s positivity rate at about 13 percent.

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

What’s happening statewide?

On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis said Florida would stop sending coronavirus tests to labs with a track record of slow turnaround time.

DeSantis said he asked drive-through testing locations to return results in 48 hours, which he said many labs have not been able to meet.

Florida has reported massive spikes in testing, including three days in the last week with more than 100,000 tests processed, health department data shows. One of those days was Sunday, when Florida broke a record with 15,300 new positive cases reported.

More than 2.8 million people have been tested for COVID-19 in Florida, or about 13 percent of the state’s population.

The coronavirus data released each day by the health department does not necessarily track cases that have emerged in the last 24 hours. Some logged cases could come over a span of several days, as labs report large batches of tests to the state.

Florida’s average positivity is about 19 percent, where it has remained steady for about two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus impact globally. It is the second highest average positivity of any state behind Arizona. High positivity rates may mean testing isn’t adequate enough to capture the true spread of the virus.

More young people are testing positive for the virus in recent months. The median age among new positive cases is 40 years old. Though the bulk of coronavirus deaths are among people age 65 and up, young people have and continue to be hospitalized and die from the virus. Existing health issues, like diabetes, obesity and heart problems, are common factors in fatalities.

The two youngest victims of the virus statewide were two 11-year-olds, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Both had pre-existing health problems.

The greatest share of new hospitalizations and deaths are among people age 55 and up as of Thursday. More than 8,200 people are currently hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of coronavirus, according to health department data.

About 15 percent of ICU beds were open statewide, and about 10 percent in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday.

Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?

What’s the picture in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay area recorded a record-high 72 deaths on Thursday, with 40 of those from Hillsborough County. The region also added 1,661 new positive cases.

Previously, Pinellas County had the highest number of single-day deaths in the region with 26, recorded on Tuesday.

The other deaths in the area on Thursday include 17 out of Pinellas, four deaths in Polk, Manatee and Pasco County each, and three deaths in Hernando County.

The average age of the new deaths in Hillsborough County was 70 years old. In Pinellas, it was 81.

The weekly positivity rate in the Tampa Bay area is highest in Hillsborough, with the seven-day average at 14 percent. Polk County follows closely behind with an average weekly positivity of about 13 percent. Pinellas County has a lower average positivity rate, at seven percent.

Even with Hillsborough’s record-high increase in deaths, Pinellas has the most fatalities in the region. Nearly 71 percent of all Pinellas deaths from coronavirus are tied to long-term care facilities. It has the third most long-term care deaths of any Florida county, behind Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

As of the latest counts, Hillsborough has 21,557 cases and 253 deaths; Pinellas has 12,368 cases and 297 deaths; Polk has 8,498 cases and 160 deaths; Manatee has 5,914 cases and 145 deaths; Pasco has 4,489 cases and 41 deaths; Hernando has 1,016 cases and 14 deaths; Citrus has 702 cases and 17 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 do these numbers mean?

The Harvard Global Health Institute developed a framework to advise state and county governments on how to control coronavirus spread. The group said Florida is at the highest risk level, or the “tipping point,” and said stay at home orders are necessary.

Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of South Florida, said community cooperation is vital to curbing the disease. People need to wear masks, social distance and keep up hygienic practices.

“It doesn’t need to be this way,” Levine said of the surge in cases and deaths. “As evidenced by other states, as evidenced by other countries, this can be managed if you have better cooperation from all people in a community.”

Even if behavior changed immediately or if a stay-at-home order was put in place, deaths and hospitalizations would still continue to increase in the next few weeks because of the general lag in reporting cases.

The high positivity rate also indicates that the virus is spreading throughout the state, and that there isn’t a high enough volume of testing to capture all of it, Levine said. But with existing delays in labs and supplies low, she said the resources for testing can’t keep up with the demand.

Continued high volume of cases, with a weekly average of about 11,865 new infections recorded a day, makes tracing the source of infection too overwhelming, Levine said. She added this is why community action is needed.

“Even though we need to continue contact tracing, there’s really no way for contact tracing to do what it’s intended to do, which is to try to corral the virus and stop the spread,” Levine said.

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