TAMPA — With Tropical Storm Isaias and yet another record-breaking week of coronavirus deaths now in Florida’s rearview mirror, the state reported a second straight day of lower infections.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported 4,752 people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 491,884.
That’s the lowest number of daily infections reported since mid-June, and roughly half the average number of new positive infections reported on a daily basis from last week.
Florida’s positivity rate, or the percentage of positive tests among all tests processed, also dipped to 9.1 percent on Monday — the second consecutive day the state has maintained a positivity rate under its target 10 percent threshold. That’s an achievement last met in early June.
Two weeks ago, nearly 14 percent of those getting tested were found positive for the coronavirus and earlier this month, that figure hovered closer to 15 percent.
But at a press conference held in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis cautioned that Florida “still has a lot of work to do” to get spread under control. A driving factor behind the lower numbers Monday, DeSantis said, is the sluggish turnaround time for test results from many of the state’s private labs.
State health officials reported 73 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday. That brings the death toll to 7,279 in the five months since Florida’s first case was identified.
According to the latest figures, about one in every 42 people in Florida is infected with the coronavirus.
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How fast is the number of Florida COVID-19 cases growing?
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What’s the picture statewide?
Since March 1, state health officials say roughly 3.8 million people have been tested for COVID-19 — about 18 percent of Florida’s population.
But only 60,994 people were tested in the 24 hours after Sunday’s report was made public.
That’s the lowest daily testing figure Florida’s seen since July 8. The day before, nearly 88,000 tests were performed, and on July 24 health officials tested nearly 121,000 people in a single day.
The state had been averaging just over 96,000 tests in the two weeks before this weekend.
As a result, Monday’s daily total of newly confirmed cases is the lowest since 3,289 cases were reported on June 23.
While testing centers in the Tampa Bay area remain open, some on the east coast have closed until Aug. 5 due to the tropical storm, which was downgraded from a hurricane as it brushed past the state’s southeastern shores on Sunday.
To combat the lagging turnaround time in testing, DeSantis announced that those deemed “at-risk” for the virus will be given “instant” tests that will produce results within 15 minutes at two drive-thru testing sites in Miami-Dade County. People who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms or those 65 and older can receive the 15-minute tests at state-run test sites at Marlins Stadium in Miami and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens starting Tuesday.
DeSantis, joined by Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, said the sites will administer 1,250 of the 15-minute tests per day. The tests — which measure a protein called an antigen that signals an immune response to the virus — first hit the market in May and had questionable accuracy.
“We want to address the remaining challenges — the turnaround time for testing,” DeSantis said. “If we can focus on those people that really need the test results the quickest, I think we’re going to be able to improve.”
An wave of people seeking tests earlier this summer caused two-week result delays across the state, DeSantis said. As a result, labs sometimes take more than a week to return test results instead of the promised 48 hours. And for someone who isn’t symptomatic, a week-long wait makes getting tested essentially “meaningless,” DeSantis said.
Is Florida’s coronavirus outbreak still growing?
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What’s the picture in Tampa Bay?
The seven counties that make up the Tampa Bay area reported seven deaths and 776 new positive coronavirus infections on Monday — the lowest daily count since June 30, records show. Two weeks ago, the region reported just under 1,370 infections in a 24-hour span.
The region saw scattered testing site closures throughout the weekend, some due to impending Tropical Storm Isaias and others due to a mounting backlog of tests waiting for results. But those challenges didn’t seem to phase Hillsborough County’s growing number of infections, which increased by 332 on Monday to 30,450 total cases. Since March 1, the county has reported 353 deaths.
Pinellas County, though, went from reporting 170 infections on Sunday to just 112 on Monday. That county still has the highest death toll in the area, with 444 deaths and 16,886 infections.
Three of Monday’s deaths occurred in Pinellas County, two in Pasco, and one each in Hillsborough and Manatee counties.
Citrus County reported an overall 1,299 cases and 30 deaths; Hernando County reported 1,766 cases and 34 deaths; Manatee reported 8,825 cases and 189 deaths; Pasco reported 6,548 cases and 100 deaths; and Polk County reported 13,137 cases and 272 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.
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What’s the forecast for the future?
Florida’s dropping hospitalization and percent positivity rates are “encouraging trends,” DeSantis said.
But the current 9 percent positivity rate remains well above the recommended 5 percent threshold set by the World Health Organization. According to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, Florida’s overall positivity rate is about 19 percent. Only Mississippi and Alabama rank higher.
Hospitalizations increased by 220 on Sunday, bringing the weekly average number slightly down after record highs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Florida’s hospitals have admitted 27,744 patients for treatment of COVID-19, the respiratory infection caused by the coronavirus, 220 in the Tampa Bay area.
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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
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