20 of Florida’s 229 COVID-19 deaths reported today in Northeast Florida

Rate of positive coronavirus tests spiked on Thursday

Chaplain Kristin Michealsen holds the hand of a deceased COVID-19 patient while talking on the phone with the patient's family member. (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s Department of Health reported 229 deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Friday -- the sixth day of the last two weeks the state’s daily death toll has exceeded 200.

Twenty of those were in Northeast Florida, including seven in both Columbia and Nassau counties, four in Duval County and one each in Flagler and St. Johns counties.

Statewide, almost 1.7 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 26,685 have died since the first case was reported March 1. While the 10,976 new cases reported Friday is way down from a peak above 17,000 per day three weeks ago, experts are concerned that the positivity rate from Thursday’s testing spiked across the board. The statewide rate doubled up to 14.46%. Positivity reached 22.85% in Duval County, 19.78% in St. Johns, 21.01% in Clay and 23.87% in Nassau.

Duval County’s total of coronavirus patients since the pandemic began rose above 80,000.

While vaccinations administered in Florida rose to 1.6 million, supplies are still limited and there are concerns that only about 5% of the residents who have received their first dose are Black and 8% are Hispanic. Overall, Blacks make up 17% of the state’s population and Hispanics are 23%.

On Friday, the state’s Hispanic Federation called on DeSantis to “quickly address cultural barriers’' preventing the community’s vaccination, saying they have been twice as likely to get the disease as white residents.

Dr. Fred Southwick, a University of Florida infectious disease specialist, said the vaccine hasn’t been distributed widely enough yet to make a dent in the number of cases. Instead, he attributed the current decline to the fact that anyone who caught the virus at a Christmas or New Year’s gathering has now been diagnosed.

He said it remains important that Floridians wear masks and avoid large gatherings as new mutations that are arriving in the state are more contagious.

“We are not out of the woods,’' he said.

His UF colleague, Dr. Glenn Morris Jr., said that while there is no indication that two more contagious mutations of the virus circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa are widespread in Florida, more testing is needed. He said only 200 samples per week out of 80,000 positive tests are being checked for the variants. He called on the state to better utilize its private and university labs.

About the Author: