Florida sees record-high coronavirus hospitalizations Tuesday

The state added about 9,500 new coronavirus cases and the death toll remained high.
Physicians test a patient for COVID-19 curbside outside of BayFront Health St. Pete hospital at 701 6th St. South on Monday, March 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Physicians test a patient for COVID-19 curbside outside of BayFront Health St. Pete hospital at 701 6th St. South on Monday, March 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 21, 2020|Updated July 21, 2020

Florida saw a record-high number of hospitalizations from coronavirus on Tuesday, adding 518 admissions, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

On Tuesday 136 deaths from the virus was announced, bringing the total number of people statewide who have died from coronavirus up to 5,319. Florida’s coronavirus death rate is higher than any other state, including Texas, which has about 25 percent more people, according to the Associated Press.

The Tampa Bay area added more than 1,000 new cases, with Pinellas County seeing the most new deaths and Hillsborough County seeing the most new cases.

The number of positive cases rose by 9,440, bringing the total number of infections since March to 369,834. The positivity rate, or the percentage of total tests coming back positive, for the day was about 14 percent.

Florida’s weekly death average has continued to rise over the past 10 days, hitting the highest it’s been at any point since the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday it hovered at about 115 people dead per day.

“As long as the cases continue at this current rate, you know things will continue to move in the wrong direction and we will most likely see hospitalizations and deaths increase,” said Jennifer Tolbert, the director of state health reform at Kaiser Family Foundation.

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

What’s the picture statewide?

The number of coronavirus cases among nursing home residents and staff increased by more than 100 percent percent between June 30 and July 20, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Health experts recommend nursing homes test for COVID-19 at least every week and get results back within 48 hours. Florida requires testing in elder-care centers every two weeks.

Statewide, about 46 percent of deaths are tied to long-term care facilities.

The median age of new cases has gone up from mid-June, when Governor Ron DeSantis reassured people that the bulk of new cases were coming from younger residents. The average age for new people testing positive was 41 years old as of Monday.

Testing has mostly been irregular across the state. Some days have reported results of more than 100,000 tests processed, while other days have had numbers below 50,000. The number of new cases and information identified by the state each day does not necessarily reflect what happened in the previous 24 hours because of reporting delays.

Florida’s average positive rate of new tests, as calculated by Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus’ impact globally, remained at about 19 percent. It is now the fourth highest average positivity for any U.S. state behind Arizona, Nevada and Idaho.

The Florida Department of Health’s reported positivity rate puts more emphasis on negative re-tests. These re-tests get counted while positive re-tests don’t.

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A high positivity rate means testing likely isn’t widespread enough to capture the full spread of disease. The World Health Organization recommends states have a two week running average of about 5 percent before reopening.

Florida has been in phased reopening since May. When cases surged in June, the state suspended drinking at bars, but few other changes have been made. Earlier this month, Disney World reopened.

In the past week, the average daily caseload has been more than 11,000 infections.

Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?

What’s happening in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay area recorded 1,115 cases and 29 deaths on Tuesday, with Hillsborough County recording the most new cases and Pinellas County seeing the most deaths.

Throughout the pandemic, Hillsborough has led the Tampa Bay area in caseloads and has the fourth most cases of any Florida county. Pinellas has led the area in deaths, largely because of outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which are responsible for about 69 percent of deaths countywide.

The deaths logged on Tuesday include 11 in Pinellas, 10 in Polk, five in Manatee, two in Pasco and one in Hillsborough.

Those who died include a 94-year-old man in Hillsborough; 57-, 63- and 79-year-old men and 86- and 88-year-old women in Manatee; two 51-year-old women in Pasco; 56-, 69-, 74-, 78-, 79-, 87-, 88-, 89-, 90- and 92-year-old men and an 83-year-old woman in Pinellas; and in Polk, 75-, 83-, 90- and 90-year-old men and 54-, 60-, 65-, 78-, 78- and 80-year-old women.

As of the latest counts, Hillsborough has 24,550 cases and 247 deaths; Pinellas has 13,925 cases and 336 deaths; Polk has 10,072 cases and 187 deaths; Manatee has 6,871 cases and 151 deaths; Pasco has 5,161 cases and 59 deaths; Hernando has 1,229 cases and 15 deaths; and Citrus has 874 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’s happening with hospitals?

Average hospitalizations have trended upward throughout July, previously nearing about 400 people admitted per day. On Tuesday, Florida reached a weekly average of about 417 admissions a day.

Since March, 22,123 hospitalizations have come from coronavirus, about 6 percent of all infections.

As of Tuesday morning, just under 9,500 people statewide are in the hospital with the virus. About 1,600 are in the Tampa Bay area.

About 23 percent of hospital beds and 17 percent of ICU beds are open statewide, according to ACHA. In the Tampa Bay area, about 22 percent of hospital beds and 12 percent of ICU beds are available.

In the Tampa Bay area, hospitals are experiencing a surge in coronavirus patients. Hundreds of nurses have been brought in to help treat the new wave of patients. Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency room doctor at Tampa General Hospital, said while in March and April Tampa General would get about 15 new patients a day with the virus, now they get 70 or more, with about 40 percent ending up in the ICU.

In Miami-Dade County, the COVID-19 epicenter in Florida, hospitals have also felt tremendous strain, according to the Miami Herald. Hospitals are seeing their admission rate double in July compared to what it was in April.

Since Florida began recording current hospital data 10 days ago, Tolbert said there’s been a 36 percent increase in hospital admissions.

Tolbert said bed availability is an important metric to look at, even as hospitals expand their surge capacity. Staffing and space can still be an issue, she said.

“In some ways the lack of a more cohesive national response to this pandemic is challenging for states,” Tolbert said. “They’re sort of acting on their own as opposed to having a coordinated national strategy where resources can be deployed as needed.”

Across the United States, hospitalizations are reaching near record-high levels, according to the Covid Tracking Project. In Arizona and Texas, medical staff are seeing huge demands in care and not enough staff to manage it. A hospital in Houston had to flip six surgical units into coronavirus care units, according to Vox.

In Arizona, the mayor of Tuscon told CNN patients may soon need to be sent to other states for treatment because of lack of space.

Hospital patients in Florid are still mostly older adults, Tolbert said, even as the share of new cases among young people swell.

“The problem is when you have so many younger people with the virus, they are inevitably spreading it to these older individuals,” she said.

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