Zero to 149 in 2 weeks: Florida coronavirus cases soar

While COVID-19 quickly spread across Florida since March 1, tiny fraction of residents have disease

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – By late February, cases of novel coronavirus began spreading across the United States. While of interest to Floridians, the global epidemic was still somewhat abstract unless you planned to travel or knew people in China, Italy or Seattle.

Then, late Sunday, March 1, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that two “presumptive positive” cases of the coronavirus were identified in Manatee and Hillsborough counties. DeSantis declared a public health emergency.

Two days later, there was a third case. By Friday, three more cases were identified in the state, including the first two in Broward County. That day, Florida also reported its first two deaths: a 71-year-old man in the Panhandle and a 77-year-old man on the Gulf Coast.

DeSantis ordered the Division of Emergency Management to activate.

“It is critical that we proactively coordinate all state resources to mitigate the threat and contain COVID-19. I urge all Floridians to take necessary precautions and follow hygiene guidelines issued by the Surgeon General and Florida Department of Health,” DeSantis said.

State health officials couched each successive announcement with information about those patients’ international travel.

Seven days in, Florida had 16 cases of COVID-19, including five Floridians who were diagnosed outside the state.

The Florida Department of Health also advised anyone who had traveled on a river cruise on the Nile River in Egypt in February to self-isolate for 14 days. Later that week, epidemiologists had identified that several passengers on that cruise were confirmed to be infected with coronavirus disease, including one of Florida’s first two deaths.

In the second week, with the pace of positive cases escalating, DeSantis declared a state of emergency, freeing up resources to fund the state’s response to a growing crisis. That Tuesday there were eight new cases, including a 68-year-old Nassau County man and a 68-year-old Georgia woman who was in isolation in Gainesville. They were the first two cases of COVID-19 identified in Northeast Florida.

On Wednesday, Florida’s public universities announced would suspend all in-person classes and move all instruction online and DeSantis announced limitation at the state’s nursing home would be limited.

“I think we are preparing to see more (CODIV-19) cases,” the governor told reporters.

Growth of novel coronavirus cases in Florida

As the number of positive tests in Broward County grew, the state identified four cases associated with Port Everglades in Broward County -- three who worked for a vendor at the port.

“The department recommends all individuals experiencing symptoms who have recently traveled through Port Everglades to immediately contact their (county health department) or health care provider and self-isolate for 14 days,” the Health Department announced on March 12.

The next day, Florida announced 17 more cases, including one in Clay County. There were 25 added on Saturday -- including three more in Duval, two more in Clay and one in St. Johns. Then 39 more on Sunday.

Fourteen days after that first announcement from the governor’s office, there are at least 149 people in the state diagnosed with COVID-19. That includes 13 people from other places who were diagnosed and are in isolation in the state.

Two weeks from the first diagnosis in the state, five residents have died.

In recent days, four cases were identified in Duval County, three in Clay, two in St. Johns (one a visitor from New York), one in Nassau and two more in Alachua County (one from Europe).

During the state’s second weekend dealing with the crisis, health officials admitted that not all cases can be traced to travel or from association with someone who had. It’s called community spread. By March 15, more than half of the cases in Florida either have no known source or it remains under investigation.

Florida’s number does not include seven Florida residents who were diagnosed elsewhere and are recovering before they are allowed to travel home. It also does not include four residents who have died of the disease -- three within the state and one in California.

For perspective less than one-hundredth of 1% of the people in Florida have tested positive. And, from the number of negative tests the state is reporting (684) it appears that only about 20% of people tested have coronavirus.

As of this writing -- understanding this will be obsolete within hours -- nearly half the state’s cases are concentrated in South Florida -- 36 in Broward County alone.

Also, based on DOH data t this time, nearly half of those diagnosed in the state are age 60 or above and there are more men than women with the disease.