JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of new cases of coronvirus in both Florida and Duval County continued to decline in Tuesday’s report from the Department of Health, but there were 133 more deaths from COVID-19 reported statewide -- a new daily record -- there were three additional deaths COVID-19 in Jacksonville, three more in Clay County and one more in Nassau County.
Florida added 9,194 cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 291,629. While that was the smallest daily increase since last week, the rate of positive tests went up from 11.46% on Monday to 15.02% on Tuesday.
Duval County added 354 cases Tuesday -- also the smallest increase since last week -- but its test positivity rate was up to 16.5%, the highest since last Wednesday.
St. Johns County added 114 cases -- one below its daily record set last week. Columbia County surged by 149 cases after an increase of 114 the day before. On Tuesday, health officials attributed most of the new cases to infections in Columbia Correctional Institute.
The seven area deaths were to residents between 44- and 87-year-olds.
In Jacksonville, two 77-year-old women and an 80-year-old man died. None reported any travel or had known contact with someone who was positive for COVID-19. That brings Duval County’s number of deaths attributed to the virus to 87.
Clay County lost two women -- 63 and 87 years old -- and an 80-year-old man. Only one of those had known contact with someone with coronavirus. Clay County has now had 39 deaths from COVID-19.
The death of a 44-year-old man in Nassau County brings its total to four. Health officials said that man had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.
As bad as the caseload and loss of life has been and around Jacksonville, the outbreak has hit South Florida particularly even harder, both now and throughout the pandemic. Its three counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach -- make up about a quarter of the state’s population but have been responsible for about half the new cases.
The chief for infection prevention at Jackson Health System, Dr. Lilian Abbo, described nurses and doctors working around the clock and some getting sick.
“We really need to work on this together,‘' she said. “Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic. What we were seeing in Wuhan (China) six months ago. Now, we are there.‘'
Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged Monday that the disease is spreading and urged people to take precautions such as wearing masks in public places, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
"We have to address the virus with steady resolve. We can't get swept away in fear, we have to understand what is going on, understand that we have a long road ahead but we also have to understand that within the context of the moment,'' he said during a Miami press conference.
There’s at least one glimmer of hope for Florida overall: The positivity rate for tests was just over 11% the two days and increase to 15% on Tuesday was still well off its peak last week. But the rate is still four times the 2.3% rate the state had in late May. Officials have said they want to get the rate below 5%, which is when they believe spread is less likely and measures are taking hold.
DeSantis said it isn't clear whether the downward positivity rate of the weekend will continue.
“We will see if that is a trend or whether that would be something that is short-lived,‘' he said.
The increase in coronavirus cases has filled some Florida hospitals, or brought them close to their capacity.
At Cleveland Clinic in Broward County, less than 10% of its 230 beds are available, according to the state, and nine of its 48 intensive care beds were available Monday morning. Dr. Rodolfo Blandon, its president, said he expects the number of ICU patients will increase through the end of the month, a result of the recent spike in cases.
"We know that these patients will likely seek medical care two to four weeks after they test positive,'' he said.
He said if the numbers keep spiking, he suspects there would have to be a roll back of some of the current freedoms. After reopening its economy with restrictions throughout May, Florida recently re-closed bars because customers weren't wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Miami-Dade County again recently prohibited restaurants from having indoor seating.
Still, Walt Disney World reopened over the weekend with limited crowds, making it the last of the state’s four major theme parks to do so.