JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s Department of Health reported 217 more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the most the state has announced in a day since the start of the pandemic.
It was the second day in a row for record deaths in Florida, following 191 deaths reported Tuesday.
The new numbers raised the average number of deaths reported daily to 142 over the past week. That’s second only to Texas overall, and to Arizona in per-capita deaths. The highest number of daily deaths reported in the U.S. during the pandemic has been 760, in New York at the height of its outbreak in mid-April.
The health department also confirmed 9,446 new cases of coronavirus in Florida.
The state continues to be one of the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak, but one promising sign in Florida is a decline in the number of people treated in hospitals for COVID-19: 8,727 patients Wednesday morning compared to a high of about 9,500 last week.
The state is now up to 451,423 cases and 6,457 deaths of residents and visitors associated with COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak, according to the Florida Department of Health. Most of the deaths included in each day’s FDOH report have not actually died in the past 24 hours.
“For those who might not think COVID-19 is a big deal, we’ve now lost 150,000 people to this virus in the United States,” said Chad Neilsen, director of Infection Prevention and Control for UF Health Jacksonville. “And this is not a time of year that we’re used to seeing this. We’re not quite to flu season yet, which we do typically see a rise in respiratory viral deaths.”
Four of the deaths reported in Wednesday’s update were in Northeast Florida: three in Jacksonville and one in St. Johns County. The youngest victim in our area was a 75-year-old St. Johns County man and the oldest was a 91-year-old Duval County woman.
Neilsen said the deaths seem to be coming on the back end of the state’s earlier spike.
″Back in the early end of this, Duval was having days without deaths, so when we had maybe one death, we were looking at a couple of hundred cases or so and a percent positivity of 3 to 4%,” Neilsen said. “I think when we get down to 3 or 4% positivity on a day-to-day average, we may not see any deaths, and I think as that percent positivity continues to decrease like it is now, I think over the next two weeks, you’ll start to see those deaths start to fall.”
Duval County added 260 cases in Wednesday’s report, and the rate of positive tests that came back Tuesday was 9.3% in Jacksonville while the state’s positivity rate ticked up to 12.26%.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday that the data show that Jacksonville could be closer to flattening the curve.
“The recent surge seems to be stabilizing and even trending downward in some hospitals, some facilities,” Curry said. “Hospitalizations remain stable and have been for several days. They are not declining readily, and they are also not rising. What is declining are the daily number of positive cases. These factors make us cautiously optimistic.”
Curry said during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon that local hospitals are reporting 481 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 106 people are in intensive care. An updated number was not provided Wednesday.
“All hospitals are reporting available adult beds, and all but one have ICU capacity. While this is a positive sign, we should remain vigilant cautious and take the responsible actions to slow the spread of this disease,” Curry said.
An additional 79 cases were added Wednesday in St. Johns County, which had a positivity rate of 11.9% on Tuesday. During a St. Johns County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, it was learned that, as of Monday, 41% of adult ICU beds were available at Flagler Hospital, 33% of ICU beds were available at Baptist Beaches and 29% of ICU beds were available at Baptist South.
In an odd shift, Union County’s case count went down by 47, but Bradford County’s went up by 67, a large jump for that area. It’s possible cases that had been classified as Union County were shifted. News4Jax is investigating.
Appearing with Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Miami on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was encouraged by the decline in new cases and hospitalizations.
While the state’s daily case increase is down from peaks the second week of July, it remains more than triple where they were in late June just before the number of cases began spiking followed a few weeks later by the number of deaths.
Dr. Roger Shapiro, an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard University and a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist, said Monday it is unclear when Florida will get its coronavirus outbreak under control.
“This can continue to spread until we socially distance and until we all wear masks in public. What I’m fearful about right now is that there are many elderly in Florida, so many in nursing homes. As it enters those spaces it will be difficult to contain.‘'
Daily COVID-19 cases reported in Florida, Jacksonville
DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide mask requirement, saying what’s right for large, urban counties like Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, which have enacted ordinances, might not be right for small, rural counties in the Panhandle and north Florida.
The hardest-hit area continues to be Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Some Miami-Dade County doctors and nurses begged DeSantis to reconsider, saying in an online press conference organized by their union that the requirement should be statewide. They said hospitals in parts of the state are at the breaking point. The state reported that about 9,030 people were hospitalized Monday morning with coronavirus, about a 2% drop from Friday.
“Our health care systems are to the top. We cannot handle this if nothing is done. We can’t take it anymore... it’s getting pretty bad,‘' said Maria Sulayman, an ICU nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital who just returned to work after being out five weeks with COVID-19.
Dr. Dave Woolsey, who works in Jackson’s hard-hit emergency room, said mandating masks statewide will slow the virus’s spread.
"This is just science and our personal beliefs and our political beliefs have nothing to do with it,'' he said.
The Palm Beach ruling came as Florida passed 6,000 coronavirus deaths, with almost 40% of those happening during the current spike that began about a month ago. The state health department reported another 76 deaths, bringing the number of people in Florida who have died of coronavirus since March 1 above 6,000. About 2,400 of those have died during July.
DeSantis has made protecting nursing homes a priority. He banned nursing home visits in March and employees are regularly tested.
Associated Press reporters contributed to this story.