ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The largest hospital in Florida's hardest-hit county in the coronavirus pandemic announced Wednesday that it is scaling back elective surgeries and other procedures because of a new surge in cases.
Jackson Health System, Miami's largest hospital with about 1,200 regular beds and 200 intensive care unit beds, said it would begin limiting nonemergency admissions starting Monday because of “a steady increase” in the number of coronavirus patients over the past few weeks.
Miami-Dade County now has 37,961 confirmed cases and 1,000 deaths, the state Department of Health reported on its website Wednesday. Health officials reported 6,500 new cases statewide, bringing the total to 158,997 and 3,550 deaths.
Hospital officials said at a virtual news conference Wednesday that they wanted to act quickly to make space for COVID-19 patients, saying the numbers seen in the past two weeks were “scary.”
“If this continues at the pace that we are going right now, in a period of about a month, a month and a half, we are going to be in a very difficult situation," said Jackson Health's CEO Carlos Migoya.
Miami-Dade and other counties in South Florida are closing beaches for the Fourth of July holiday to prevent further virus spread due to large crowds. And both Miami-Dade and Broward County, which are the two largest counties in the state, announced Wednesday they would expand mask mandates to all public spaces outdoors. They previously only required outdoor use when social distancing was not possible.
Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Wednesday he is most concerned with large indoor gatherings rather than outside activities over the holiday. The Republican governor has not imposed a statewide order to wear masks and has resisted rolling back much of the gradual reopening of the state's economy.
“Doing things outdoors in Florida is less risky than doing things where you're packed indoors,” DeSantis said during an event at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “By and large, the virus does not like sunshine, heat and humidity. I think every study has shown that.”
Miami Beach is reimposing a curfew from 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., city manager Jimmy Morales told city commissioners in an email. “This will reduce the social interaction and help police with enforcement against loitering,” Morales said. “There is nothing else to do after midnight.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, meanwhile, issued an order late Tuesday forbidding restaurants that have seating for more than eight people from serving customers inside from midnight to 6 a.m. until further notice. Another order bans alcohol sales for on-site consumption between midnight and 6 a.m.
“Too many people were crowding into restaurants late at night, turning these establishments into breeding grounds for this deadly virus,” Gimenez said in a statement.
Dr. Kristin Englund, an infectious disease physician at Cleveland Clinic, said Florida should brace for further increases because the many thousands of new confirmed cases per day over the past week will overwhelm efforts to trace and isolate the patients' contacts. She said many of the reopening measures in Florida and across the rest of the South will likely need to be walked back.
“Once it gets widespread in any state, now it’s going to be almost impossible to control. We can’t trace these huge numbers,” Englund said.
Marilyn Rauth, who is in her 70s and lives in Punta Gorda, faulted the state leadership for reopening too quickly and is concerned that “COVID spread will probably go on for some time.”
Rauth said she ventures out only about once a week to meet with three other people for dinner and drinks, staying 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
“For many of us who are older, we're pretty much forced to stay at home,” Rauth said.
State and hospital officials have tried to calm fears about the rising numbers, saying the most recent cases appear to involve mostly younger people suffering less acute symptoms. Previously, the majority of the state's cases involved older people who became much sicker.
Still, the number of patients requiring ventilators in Miami-Dade County has steadily increased from 60 two weeks ago to 118 on Wednesday, according to Miami-Dade figures posted by the county online. The highest number of patients on ventilators was 198, on April 9.
In Miami-Dade County, about 19% of ICU beds are still available. That number falls to about 12% in some of Jackson Health’s hospitals, officials said. In addition, Jackson Health hospitals now have about twice as many coronavirus patients than they did in mid-June.
The figures for bed availability do not include a temporary COVID-19 hospital built at a convention center in Miami Beach, which has never been used.
Associated Press reporters Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.