JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With nine additional deaths -- a single-day high -- reported in Friday’s data from the Florida Department of Health, Jacksonville has now eclipsed 120 coronavirus-related deaths -- and nearly a quarter of those were reported in just the last six days.
According to state data, Duval County has now reported 18,781 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 538 hospitalizations and 122 deaths related to the virus. Of those deaths, 29 were reported since Sunday.
Infectious disease experts say they expected to see the numbers of deaths rise locally because of the spike in cases Duval County experienced 10 days ago.
“Typically the deaths seem to lag when the cases spike and here in Duval County, we saw high hospitalizations sometime around July 14,” said Chad Neilsen, director of Health Infection Prevention at UF Health. “Typically when folks and being diagnosed and coming in with COVID-19, death sometimes occurs seven to 10 days after their admission to the hospital.”
Statewide, Florida reported 136 additional deaths and 12,444 newly confirmed cases -- pushing the state to 402,312 cases and 5,768 deaths of residents and visitors since the pandemic began. (The 136 deaths statewide did not all occur in the last 24 hours. The state’s death data often have significant delays in reporting and some of the deaths may have occurred weeks ago.)
Florida has averaged well over 10,000 additional cases each day of July. The state’s single-day record for new cases, reported on July 12, remains at 15,300.
The unsettling trend of increased deaths is similar across the 11 Northeast Florida counties News4Jax has been tracking during the pandemic.
Those counties (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns and Union) have reported 251 deaths among them since the pandemic began. More than 22% of those (57) were reported in the last six days.
The area also hit a single-day high on Friday with 17 deaths reported across our 11 counties.
“Working here at the hospital where I currently am, I could tell you every day the coronavirus is real,” Neilsen said. “We have had deaths in the hospital as well we have continually had about 100 patients admitted for COVID-19. I mean, right now, more than 100 patients for specific COVID-19 hospitalizations and not car crashes or other stuff -- it is very real.”
A month ago, Florida was averaging 33 deaths a day before the daily totals began creeping up and then spiking dramatically the past two weeks.
But Neilsen said one encouraging statistic in the fight against the coronavirus is the state’s percent positivity rate of 13.31% -- which is down from the more than 19% positivity rate the state had seen earlier. He said a percent positivity rate of less than 10% in the future would indicate significant progress.
“On the front end of this pandemic, we were running 3% to 5% positivity, which indicated really good data and indicated things are moving in the correct direction, but when we are likely around 15% to 20% -- that’s obviously not what we want to be,” Neilsen said.
Duval County had 424 additional cases reported Thursday for a total of 18,781. Its percentage of positive tests on Thursday was 8.7%.
The nine deaths in Duval County ranged in age from 65 to 93. Columbia, which has had an outbreak of cases at the prison, reported three more deaths to bring its total to 10. Clay County added two more deaths -- a 69-year-old woman and a 72-year-old man -- to bring its total to 47.
St. Johns (82-year-old woman), Bradford (78-year-old woman) and Putnam (76-year-old man) reported one additional death each.
Of those who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in the state, 23,225 patients have been hospitalized across the state since Florida began tracking data in March. That includes 581 new hospitalizations reported statewide since Thursday -- a one-day record.
The state does not report a number of patients who have recovered.
Neilsen said the Jacksonville mask mandate appears to be working, pointing out the spike in cases started around the Fourth of July locally, when people started to put down their guard and not adhere to CDC recommendations.
Amid the ongoing spike in cases in Florida, and Jacksonville, President Donald Trump announced Thursday night that he was calling off the Jacksonville portion of the Republican National Convention because he didn’t want to send the wrong message by hosting a large gathering.
“There’s nothing more important than keeping the American people safe,” Trump said. “I want to thank the Jacksonville community and all of the other political representatives. They were there for us 100%.”
Jacksonville had been given only a short window of opportunity to prepare after the RNC, which was abruptly pulled from its original venue in Charlotte over a dispute about coronavirus prevention efforts.
Many school districts are grappling with the challenge of finding ways to safely reopen this fall despite the ongoing spike in cases, and many are pushing back their start dates to allow more preparation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said during an address Wednesday on school reopenings that parents should all have a choice between sending their children physically back to schools in the fall or opting for distance learning.
“The evidence that schools can be open in a safe way is overwhelming,” DeSantis said. “Yet I also understand the apprehension that some parents may feel, and I believe in empowering them with a choice. No parent should be required to send their child to in-person instruction if they don’t want to.”
Richard Corcoran, the state’s education commissioner, issued an order for all schools to reopen for in-person classes during the fall. The order also instructs school districts to follow the advice of state and local health officials as well as executive orders issued by DeSantis.
Florida is considered in the “red zone,” according to an unpublished document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force that was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom.
The 359-page document outlines and suggests measures that the states in the “red zone” should take, encouraging people to “wear a mask at all times.” It suggests states limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer and maintain closures of bars and gyms.
While the state regulator in charge of businesses said last Friday that bars will not be reopening yet in the state, DeSantis has declined to close gyms again, saying people should have the chance to stay healthy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.