JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We first heard about this virus early in the year in China, then Italy, then it showed up in Washington State, where the novel coronavirus began to take the lives of nursing home residents.
On Sunday, March 1, the Florida Department of Health sent a 29-word tweet about two presumptive cases in the state: a 29-year-old Tampa-area woman who had recently traveled to Italy and a 63-year-old Manatee County man who had contact with someone who tested positive.
That night, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a public health emergency.
Within 10 days, cases began showing up in Northeast Florida and hundreds of people were testing positive across the state with a virus that doctors were still struggling to understand and treat.
By April 1, the state reported 7,773 cases. Students were told not to return to classrooms after spring break. Cities across the state began shutting down in an effort to avoid the rampant spread of COVID-19.
Remember the “14 days to Flatten the Curve” campaign?
After a summer surge much bigger than that spring peak of infections, Florida’s caseload moderated even as most of Florida’s emergency orders limiting capacity and requiring face coverings either expired or lost enforcement authority.
Florida’s cases started rising again in late October -- although not to the degree that much of the country was seeing. While many states are again imposing limits on crowd size as their hospitals fill up, Gov. Ron DeSantis is determined to keep the state open for business.
On Dec. 1, nine months later, Florida posted its millionth case of the virus. That’s about one person of every 20 in the state. Nearly 19,000 residents or people visiting our state have died with COVID-19. We just passed 600 deaths in Duval County alone. More than 1,300 residents of Northeast Florida counties have died with this virus.
Thankfully, Florida is not seeing the surge of COVID-19 infections that much of the nation is experiencing, but in the last few weeks, we have averaged about the same number of people diagnosed with the virus each day as we recorded in that entire first month that prompted lockdowns.
We’ve all been touched in some way by this pandemic. How many of us got sick or know someone who did? Some of us are mourning the loss of a loved one or friend. Millions of Floridians were initially thrown out of work by the shutdowns and demand at food banks surged. While many of those jobs have returned, thousands of people and businesses are still hurting as federal aid has dried up.
We’re all tired of but mostly compliant with reminders to wear masks and social distance in public places. While there were some exceptions, most people limited the number of people around our Thanksgiving table, canceled trips and avoided crowds on Black Friday.
Watching the numbers grow each day, News4Jax has reported on those who have died and those who have recovered in our community. We’ve sought out stories about people helping those who couldn’t help themselves, efforts to limit the spread and the debate over whether our leaders are doing enough or too much to contain the virus.
Along the way we’ve tried to give context to the data, especially when the number of infections surged in July and August, followed weeks later by way too many deaths to comprehend.
Please don’t ease up. Protect yourself, your family and your community as best you can as we continue to get through this pandemic together.