TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's death toll from the coronavirus topped 9,000 Thursday, while its pandemic-buffeted economy led the nation in a drop in the number of new jobless claims.
The jobless claims are still historically high, as the state seeks to claw back economic activity still stunted by the continuing outbreak, and as schools around the state grapple with how to reopen classes safely.
Some 55,106 Floridians filed for unemployment benefits last week, federal figures released Thursday show, a decline of 23,180 claims from the previous week — the biggest drop of any state. By comparison, at the same time in August 2019, there were 5,978 new jobless claims in Florida.
Ross Graham’s Miami-based company is actually expanding. The cocktail manufacturer hired four new employees over the past month after an unprecedented spike in online sales during the pandemic through home delivery while bars remain shuttered. That was a shift for Miami Cocktail from mostly in-store sales at specialty grocers.
“We’ve obviously had to pivot like everyone else and adjust our business,” Graham said. “The biggest uptick and pleasant surprise has been that online sales boost ... it just continues to grow so that’s been exciting.”
Miami Cocktail had a 2,900% uptick in online sales during the second quarter of 2020, compared to the same time last year. They’re even launching in the United Kingdom next week.
Nationally, the number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment aid fell below 1 million last week for the first time since the pandemic intensified five months ago. The Labor Department said applications fell to 963,000, the second straight drop, from 1.2 million the previous week.
Florida reported 149 new deaths from COVID-19 Thursday, bringing its total to 9,047 and its average in daily reported deaths over the past week to 168. That compares with 220 for Texas over the past week and 760 for New York at the peak of its outbreak in April.
While deaths have mounted dramatically over the past couple of weeks, the pandemic-induced crunch at hospitals has been easing since three weeks ago and the state’s daily increases in confirmed cases have decelerated.
The number of patients treated in Florida hospitals for the disease has gone from a peak of more than 9,500 down to 6,333 in the late morning Thursday.
Meanwhile, in Manatee County on Florida's Gulf Coast, several employees at a Florida high school are quarantining for 14 days after being exposed to the coronavirus on campus.
Using contact tracing, the Manatee County school district and the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County found that “a number of school employees” had direct exposure to the infected person.
Infections also have disrupted early voting for Florida's primary election on Tuesday. Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis said Thursday that a poll worker at the county’s Punta Gorda early voting site tested positive.
“We were notified yesterday around noon and immediately shut the location down,” wrote Stamoulis in an email.
Punta Gorda is on Florida’s Gulf Coast, about an hour and a half south of Tampa.
Schneider reported from Orlando, Florida.