JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Public health experts warn Florida’s rising number of COVID-19 cases could be the leading edge of a dangerous spike that could continue for months as the state remains open for business, tourism and education.
Four weeks after Florida entered Phase 3 -- removing capacity limits for businesses, including restaurants and bars -- the number of positive COVID-19 tests is ticking up. On Monday, the state’s health department confirmed 3,377 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 782,013 since the pandemic first showed up in Florida.
While we’ve seen higher daily spikes in recent days, the seven-day average has risen to 3,612 -- the most of any week since early September.
Among those concerned about a Florida spike is Dr. Thomas Giordano, chief of infectious diseases at Baylor College in Houston.
“The embers are out there and Florida is starting to burn," Giordano told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "By the time we see it in the numbers that are reported officially, it’s too late, and you’re going to see it only in the rearview mirror and wish you’d been a little more aggressive.”
As recently as Oct. 11, the White House Coronavirus Task Force cited “early warning signs” of an uptick in Florida cases, although that information was recently released.
Florida vs. Duval County daily cases diagnosed since June 1
Dr. Jonathan Kantor, with the Penn Center for Epidemiology, is also concerned that we make decisions by looking back, not ahead.
“I think any time we are looking at data on COVID, we are always looking backward, right? We don’t really know going forward what the number of cases are going to be," Kantor said Monday on The Morning Show. “The big question we have to ask as Floridians is ... what have we done differently? And the answer is not much. So, the problem is, on the one hand, we don’t have these early warning signs. On the other hand, even when we know we are in the throes of a surge, we don’t necessarily change our actions very much. And that’s where we really need to look to ourselves and our communities and our families to say, ‘What are we doing to help to mitigate this problem?’”
Asked what the No. 1 thing people should do mitigate the problem, Kantor was quick to say: “Wear a mask!”
Florida has never had a statewide mask mandate. A mandate in force in Duval County since late June expires Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Mayor Lenny Curry said he is still deciding whether or not it needs to be extended.
The rise in daily case numbers is typically followed by increased hospitalizations, then, sometimes weeks later, by a rising number of deaths. As of Monday, 2,252 people were hospitalized in Florida with primary diagnoses of COVID-19 -- an increase of 33 from the day before.
Monday’s FDOH report showed only 20 additional deaths, which is well below daily increases seen for the last several months.
In Northeast Florida, Duval County added 202 cases on Monday for a total of 34,462. St. Johns County added 46 cases. Union County only added three COVID-19 cases, but reported two more deaths, bringing that small county’s total 43.
The state’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests in Monday’s report rose to 5.94%.
Duval County’s positivity rate rose to 6.09% Monday. Clay, Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Flagler, Nassau and Putnam counties reported positivity rates below 5% in Sunday’s report, while the positivity rates for St. Johns County was at 5.71% and Union County’s jumped to 14.29%.
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, breathing trouble, sore throat, muscle pain, and loss of taste or smell. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia.