JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Clay County man became the eighth person to die in the county after contracting COVID-19, the Florida Department of Health reported Friday evening.
The 54-year-old man was one of 48 additional deaths reported in the state Friday. A total of 419 people have reportedly died in Florida after contracting novel coronavirus, according to the latest data.
Clay County saw a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Friday with 34 new cases reported in the last 24 hours, an increase of 31%. There were 144 confirmed cases in Clay County as of Friday evening.
Florida’s outbreak has now infected 17,968 people and touched all 67 counties in the state.
As of Friday at 5 p.m., the state Department of Health said the number of infections was up 1,142 in the last 24 hours and 2,496 are now hospitalized for COVID-19.
Jacksonville now has 618 reported cases, Alachua County has 167, St. Johns has 165, Flagler County has 44, Nassau has 33, Putnam has 29, Columbia has 23, Bradford has 22 and Union County has two. A total of 25 Northeast Florida residents have died.
The highest concentration of infections remains in South Florida, with the epicenter focused on Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Breakdown of cases in Northeast Florida
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that the state would expand testing for the coronavirus to better gauge how widespread infections have become, as the disease continued to spread.
During a press conference in Jacksonville, the governor said the state will begin allowing anyone with coronavirus symptoms to get tested at three government-run sites in Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. The governor also opened testing to anyone who may be asymptomatic but have had close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“What we're trying to do is to get a sense of people who are asymptomatic who may be carrying the virus and may be spreading the virus,” DeSantis said.
As the governor moved to close restaurants and bars and advocate social distancing in recent weeks, he has long abandoned his earlier insistence that the virus had not spread throughout the state's communities.
The governor said his state was aggressively trying to acquire tests that allow for quicker results, as well as a new test to see if a person possesses antibodies that could make them immune to further infection.
“It'll give us a sense of how much this virus has actually penetrated into the community,” he said.
Previously, tests were reserved for first responders, health care workers and the state’s older population.
To help contain the spread of the virus, the state has had travel-related screenings in place at airports and major roadways. To date, the governor said, 17,000 people from New York City or New Orleans have been screened since the start of the month.
Passengers on flights arriving from Connecticut, New Jersey and New York — the country's current COVID-19 epicenter — are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The state also has set up checkpoints at heavily trafficked roadways connecting the state with Alabama and Georgia.
The governor said the state has the hospital capacity to treat new patients, with 44% of the state's 67,000 beds free. In addition, 40% of beds in ICU wards are also available, he said.
“We track the hospitalizations very closely to see what trends are developing,” he said, noting that the number of hospitalizations has dipped by 50 since Thursday.
But the state's statistics have occasionally moved up and down — although the trend has continued to go upward despite day-to-day variances.
Also ticking upward has been the state's unemployment claims, as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity continues to grapple with a system that has been overwhelmed by the newly jobless.
So far this week, the agency has received 225,755 initial claims, the governor said. That's on top of the 471,000 that had come in since March 15.
Because of continued problems with the state's online unemployment portal, those seeking benefits have been allowed to file applications by mail. To date, nearly 12,000 paper applications have come in.
But as a sign of continued challenges for the agency, its spokespeople still could not say when checks would begin to be sent out.
The Florida Department of Emergency Management sent out one of the biggest shipments of supplies in the department’s history on Thursday, DeSantis said. The state of Florida was shipping 2 million surgical masks, 300,000 face shields, more than 50,000 containers of hand sanitizer, 500,000 shoe covers, more than 100,000 gowns and 350,000 gloves. That brings the total supplies sent out by the state to 5.2 million masks, 500,000 face shields, 4.75 million gloves and 275,000 gowns.
Social distancing guidelines have forced schools to shutter — and they will remain closed until the end of the month amid uncertainty over when the 2.9 million children who attend public schools can return to their classrooms.
While some states have suspended classes for the rest of the year, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the governor say they have not yet come to a decision whether they will be following suit.
“If it's safe we want kids to be in school," DeSantis said during his press briefing.
“If we get to a point where people think that we’re on the other side of this, and we can get kids back in just for a couple of weeks, we think there would be some value in that," the governor said. "It would be a return to normalcy for a little bit.”