Florida’s total number of coronavirus cases since March exceeded 1 million Tuesday, making it the third state in the country to surpass that grim milestone.
The state recorded 8,847 additional cases and 82 deaths Tuesday, according to the Florida Department of Health.
In the past nine months, health officials have declared the coronavirus the cause of 18,916 deaths in Florida. That’s only 176 empty seats away from a full house at a Tampa Bay Lightning game inside Amalie Arena.
On average, the state has announced 76 deaths per day this week. It can take officials up to two weeks to report a coronavirus-related death, meaning the deaths added each day does not necessarily reflect the number of people who died the previous day.
Florida has the third-highest number of cases reported since January, trailing behind California, which has about 1.2 million cases and Texas, which has roughly 1.16 million cases.
At a Monday press conference in Kissimmee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said there would be no new business or masking protocols aimed at containing the pandemic in the Sunshine State.
“I’m opposed to mandates, period,” he said when asked about a statewide masking requirement. “I don’t think they work. People in Florida wear them when you go out. I mean, they don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it.”
On Sept. 25, DeSantis moved Florida into Phase 3 of reopening, lifting all statewide coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses. During Monday’s press conference, he said he had no intention of changing the state’s approach.
“In terms of no lockdowns, no fines, no school closures, no one’s losing their job because of a government dictate,” he said. “Nobody’s losing their livelihood or their business. That is totally off the table.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the governor’s actions caused confusion about local mask orders implemented in Florida’s cities and counties.
“If we had had leadership from our governor on this issue, that number could have been mitigated significantly,” he said.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she believes the opening of bars in the summer may have contributed to the current caseload, and wishes there had been more relief for business owners so the bars could stay closed. She said she expects President-Elect Joe Biden will implement a nationwide mask mandate. For now, Castor said she is advocating for personal responsibility.
“I know that there’s a great deal of (coronavirus) fatigue and frustration,” she said. “But I just continue to try to remind everyone that if they can continue with those simple steps for another month and a half or two months until we can get the vaccine distributed, that we can come out from under this.”
The number of COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations are rising across the state of Florida. This week, Florida added about 7,838 cases per day on average, a number that has been climbing since early October. Over the summer, cases peaked at about 12,000 added per day, though testing is more widespread now than during that period.
Roughly one in 21 Florida residents have tested positive for the virus. Health experts warn that state hospitals could be overwhelmed by cases if current trends continue and the Tampa Bay region alone could add 15,000 cases a day in January.
Jay Wolfson, the senior associate dean of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, said hospitals will likely see higher caseloads than the spring and summer but lower death rates, as treatment is now more effective. Still, he said, there’s a “sidebar effect,” to rising caseloads.
“Lots of people are dying at home from other diseases because they can’t access local hospitals,” Wolfson said.
It can be difficult to enforce social distancing and mask mandates in America, Wolfson said, but he encouraged people to overcome polarization and embrace public health guidelines to overcome the virus.
“If we can just put the politics aside and do it, do what we know we need to do, and use the good science and the good medicine and common sense, we could get over this thing, right?” he said. “But only if we do it as a team. We’re not adversaries on this.”
Hospitalizations: As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 4,279 people in Florida hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. Of those hospitalizations, 891 were in Tampa Bay hospitals.
The state recorded 338 new hospitalizations Tuesday, with 88 new admissions locally.
Across the state of Florida, roughly 24 percent of regular hospital beds and about 22 percent of adult intensive care unit beds were available Tuesday afternoon. About 22 percent of regular hospital beds and nearly 17 percent of adult ICU beds were open in the Tampa Bay region.
Positivity: Florida’s average weekly positivity rate was 7.66 percent Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, which recently changed its calculation method to more closely match the Florida Department of Health’s metrics.
The health department recorded a weekly average positivity rate of about 7.44 percent. Over the past two weeks, the state’s daily positivity rate has ranged from 8.69 percent to 6.18 percent.
The World Health Organization recommends that a state or region maintain a positivity rate of five percent or less before loosening social distancing measures. Higher positivity rates suggest that testing is not widespread enough to capture the full spread of the virus. According to Johns Hopkins, 44 states have a positivity rate higher than five percent.
Local numbers: Tampa Bay recorded 1,227 cases and 26 deaths Tuesday.
Polk County reported 10 deaths, while Pinellas added nine deaths. Hernando County added five deaths and Hillsborough and Manatee counties each added one death. There were no new deaths reported in Pasco or Citrus counties.
Pasco County had the highest weekly average positivity rate, at roughly 9.61 percent, while Hernando County had a positivity rate of about 9.43 percent. Citrus County’s positivity rate was around 8 percent, while Hillsborough and Polk counties had positivity rates of around 7 percent. Pinellas and Manatee counties had positivity rates of about 6 percent.
According to the latest counts, Hillsborough has 58,749 cases and 938 deaths, Pinellas has 33,246 cases and 915 deaths, Polk has 27,822 cases and 690 deaths, Manatee has 17,006 cases and 379 deaths, Pasco has 15,041 cases and 278 deaths, Hernando has 5,052 cases and 222 deaths, and Citrus has 4,790 cases and 172 deaths.
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