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Jacksonville woman among latest COVID-19 casualties as Florida’s death toll reaches 867

Alachua County records its first coronavirus-related death

File (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
File (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 68-year-old Duval County woman and a 67-year-old Alachua County woman are two of the latest deaths related to COVID-19 reported in Florida.

The women’s deaths were among 44 new deaths documented on Tuesday by the Florida Department of Health, bringing the statewide death toll to 867, including 41 deaths in Northeast Florida.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 27,869 people in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19 and 4,226 of them have been hospitalized at some point with the respiratory illness. That’s compared to 27,058 cases and 4,000 hospitalizations reported around the same time Monday evening.

The latest figures came as Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed confidence about Florida’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, citing a host of empty hospital beds in cities throughout the state. He said the vacancies are evidence that the steps state and local leaders have taken to turn back the virus are working.

"Our work is succeeding,” DeSantis said Tuesday afternoon. “We have flattened the curve. In fact, not only did the hospital system not get overwhelmed, since the pandemic started available hospital beds have increased in the state of Florida, not decreased.”

So far, roughly 282,000 tests have been administered in Florida, according to the health department. The vast majority (89 percent) of those results have come back negative. Another 602 were inconclusive and 1,264 are pending. It’s unclear how many people have gotten better since testing positive.

The woman who died in Alachua County marks the county’s first documented death related to the virus. According to the health department, it’s believed she had contact with a known coronavirus patient.

The origin of infection is unclear for the Duval County woman, whose death marks Jacksonville’s 17th.

A total of 1,871 cases have been reported in Northeast Florida. Nearly half of them are in Jacksonville, the state’s largest and most populous city. Duval (909 cases) leads the region, followed by Clay (256), Alachua (224), St. Johns (194), Flagler (78), Putnam (59), Nassau (46), Bradford (43), Columbia (42), Baker (17) and Union (3) counties.

On a local level, Jacksonville leaders have begun taking steps to lift safety measures imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including reopening Duval County beaches on a limited basis for exercise. Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday the city is already meeting some of the benchmarks necessary to slowly reopen.

“On April 6 our percentage of positive test results was 6.3 percent. That number has been steadily decreasing. As of this morning, the Department of Health reports we are at 5.1 percent,” the mayor said. “This is important because it gives us a sense of how widespread the virus is in our community. That number going down indicates the virus is decreasing, and that means we can begin looking at responsible and incremental ways to get back to work.”

While Curry did not discuss a specific timeframe for the city’s next steps, he listed a dozen business and health leaders he plans to consult with about decisions related to local recovery efforts. The group includes Daniel Davis, CEO of JaxChamber; Nat Ford, CEO of JTA; Duval County Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene and Dr. Leon Haley, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, among eight others.

“I want to get our city back to work as much as anyone, but my top priority is the health and safety of the people of Jacksonville," Curry said. “So we have to move forward in a cautious and incremental way. For now, I’m asking the people of Jacksonville to keep doing what you’re doing, remain on a safer-at-home order at the state and local level.”

DeSantis, who tweeted praise Monday for Duval County’s efforts to flatten the curve, has formed his own executive committee to explore reopening Florida, comprised of a number of business and civic leaders. Noticeably absent from that group was Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat in the governor’s cabinet. The committee meets daily and is expected to provide recommendations on Friday.

“We appreciate everything everyone’s doing. I know it’s tough, but I think we’re on a positive course here,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “We just got to keep going and make sure we move ahead in a smart and safe direction, and I know a lot of Floridians are looking to do that as well.”


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