Florida coronavirus cases see biggest one-day increase since testing started

Additional deaths reported in Bradford and Duval counties brings death toll in Northeast Florida to 36

FILE (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) (Gerald Herbert, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Florida jumped Friday by more than 1,400 in the last 24 hours — the highest one-day increase in new cases since testing began.

Cases reached 24,753 on Friday evening, including more than 1,600 in Northeast Florida, the same day officials lifted limits on access to some of the region’s beaches.

A 56-year-old St. Johns County man who had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and traveled to Louisiana was among 58 additional deaths reported in the last 24 hours, according to new data released by the Florida Department of Health.

Bradford County reported its second death, an 85-year-old woman, Baker County reported its third death, a 64-year-old woman, and a 50-year-old Duval County man who had contact with a confirmed case brought the death toll in Jacksonville to 15.

So far, Northeast Florida has seen 1,663 coronavirus cases, resulting in 36 deaths.

Of those in Florida who have tested positive for COVID-19, 3,649 have been hospitalized and 726 have died of the respiratory illness. That’s compared to 23,340 patients, 3,458 hospitalizations and 668 deaths reported Thursday night.

Even as authorities in Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach, along with neighboring St. Johns County, reopen public beaches for exercise, they’re warning residents not to slip back into old habits.

“How long these beaches remain open is 100% up to the beachgoers,” Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said at a Friday morning news conference. “If we have to close the beach again, we’ll do it. Safety is still our top priority.”

Latham’s remarks echoed those made by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry when he announced Thursday afternoon that Duval County’s beaches would open Friday.

“This can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life,” Mayor Curry said in a statement Thursday. “Please respect and follow these limitations. Stay within the guidelines for your safety as well as for the safety of your neighbors.”

Notably, beaches in nearby Nassau County remain closed. County officials expressed concerns Friday about Curry’s decision and said they plan to monitor what happens in Jacksonville moving forward.

The changes in Duval and St. Johns counties come less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump unveiled a three-phase plan to reopen the country in stages, based on states’ transmission rates.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday morning acknowledged that local governments, such as Jacksonville, are starting to peel back restrictions on outdoor recreation. He supports the move as long as people maintain a safe social distance.

“I think we’ve got to be promoting people to get exercise,” DeSantis said. “Do it in a good way, do it in a safe way. But I think in Duval, some other parts, we obviously are going to help anybody else out, but that’s basically been a local decision.”

In Northeast Florida, Duval County leads the region with 817 cases, though its 5.5% infection rate is half the statewide average. It’s followed by Alachua (201), Clay (216), St. Johns (186), Flagler (55), Putnam (52), Nassau (42), Bradford (40), Columbia (35), Baker (17) and Union (2) counties.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.