TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed confidence Tuesday that Florida will soon contain its coronavirus outbreak and that hospitals can handle the current influx of patients, putting forward a positive case even as the state's average daily death toll is now the nation's worst.
DeSantis told reporters at a state capitol news conference that hospital admissions and the percentage of tests coming back positive seem to be plateauing or declining in much of the state and that hospitals have sufficient capacity in their intensive care units and overall.
“The trend is much better today than it was two weeks ago,” DeSantis said. “I am confident that we will get through this. I am confident that the folks ... in our hospital systems will continue to do a great job and meet the demand. There is a lot of anxiety and fear out there and I think we are going to be able to get through it. We are not there yet.”
The news conference came shortly after the state health department recorded another 136 deaths, bringing Florida's daily average for the past week to 115, reflecting the increasing infection rate the state began seeing last month.
That figure tops the 112 deaths a day Texas has reported during that period, Associated Press statistics show. California, with nearly double the population of Florida, is at 93 deaths a day over the last week. A month ago, Florida was averaging 33 coronavirus deaths a day. Still, Florida is seeing one-sixth the 700 deaths a day New York experienced in April, when the crisis was at its peak. That state is now down to 10 deaths a day.
Dr. Stanley Marks, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County, said Florida's rising daily death rate shows “we're not beating this disease yet.” He said Floridians need to do a better job of isolating themselves when they can, wearing masks when they can't and washing their hands frequently.
“I’m concerned about my fellow Floridians that sometimes I see out doing things that just don’t make any sense in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “We have got to get our fellow citizens to understand it’s up to them to help control this disease. Right now there is no magical medical bullet.”
Overall, at least 5,319 people have died in Florida from COVID-19 since the state's first cases were recorded March 1 and nearly 370,000 have tested positive for the disease. About 19% of tests have returned positive in Florida over the last week: that figure has plateaued over the last two weeks, a sign that the spread might be slowing, but it is double compared to the 10% rate of a month ago and well above the state's 2.3% in late May.
The state reported Tuesday that an additional 517 people have been admitted to hospitals with the disease. Still, the number of people being treated for COVID-19 in Florida hospitals was stable over the past 24 hours, for the first time since the state began releasing the statewide, hour-to-hour census of patients on July 10. At the time, that number was about 6,800 and rising by several hundred a day.
The number hospitalized in the late morning Tuesday stood at 9,436, down a notch from the 9,452 patients 24 hours earlier.
“The capacity of the health care system is strong,” said Mary Mayhew, the secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. “I know people are scared around the state, but they should have confidence in the health care.”
Chris Plance said Florida hospitals will see high patient demand for the foreseeable future, which he believes could result in burnout among doctors, nurses and other staff.
“You can run these beds forever, but you can’t run a person forever,” said Plance of PA Consulting. "Staff is going to get sick and they’re going to have problems staffing at the level they are. This is going to become more and more of a problem.”
Marks said he is seeing fatigue in his Memorial staff.
“Our people are getting tired. They have worked tirelessly to manage this and we are now in our second surge,” Marks said.
DeSantis said he fears some patients suffering possible heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies are not going to the hospital because they are afraid of contracting the virus.
“COVID is very important but COVID is just one aspect of the overall health care system and the health needs of Floridians," he said.
Spencer and Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.