JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the third day in a row Thursday, the Florida Department of Health’s updated COVID-19 database showed more additional coronavirus-related deaths than the state had previously seen in one day.
Most of the deaths included in each day’s FDOH report have not actually died in the past 24 hours, but tracking from one day’s update to the next, Florida is seeing an unsettling spike in deaths related to the virus.
Of the state’s 6,709 deaths of residents and visitors, nearly 10% have been reported by the health department in the last three days: 191 on Tuesday, 217 on Wednesday and 252 on Thursday.
Thursday’s state report shows an additional 253 deaths of Florida residents, but the non-Florida resident deaths total went down by one, so the total deaths increase statewide from Wednesday’s report to Thursday’s report was 252. It’s possible one of the non-resident deaths was reclassified as a Florida resident, creating the discrepancy.
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.
“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.”
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.”
Six of the deaths reported in Thursday’s update were in Northeast Florida: three in Jacksonville, two in Nassau County and one in St. Johns County. Among the deaths in Jacksonville were a 48-year-old woman, an 86-year-old man and a 68-year-old woman whose case was first counted by the state June 27. The Nassau deaths involved a 65-year-old and a 69-year-old and the patient in St. Johns who died was 88.
The health department also confirmed 9,956 new cases of coronavirus in Florida.
Duval County added 418 cases in Thursday’s report, and the rate of positive tests that came back Wednesday was 7.7% in Jacksonville while the state’s positivity rate ticked down slightly to 12%.
An additional 61 cases were added Thursday in Clay County, which had a positivity rate of 9.7% on Wednesday. Columbia County, which has struggled with an outbreak at the prison there, added 114 cases on Thursday with a 31.7% positivity rate Wednesday.
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.
Neilsen said it’s likely the recent spike in Florida was related to the Fourth of July holiday and with no holidays coming up soon, the state could get a respite -- but a tropical storm potentially targeting parts of the state could cause problems.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a Thursday news conference reminded area residents to get prepared now for the storm and not to drop good social distancing habits while they’re shopping for supplies.
“Most of the stores that I’ve been in -- retail stores, grocery stores, etc. -- have markings on their floors and their lines that demonstrate the 6 feet of distance. If you’re in a store that doesn’t have that, be mindful,” Curry said. “Wear your mask, do not crowd and jam (together) as you’re getting your supply kits.”
Curry also stressed that Tropical Storm Isaias, which is churning on a track toward potential Florida impacts, isn’t a reason to panic.
“We don’t know how this tropical storm will develop. We’re not under an immediate threat that people should be panicking or rushing around, but this is a good reminder, during a pandemic, to prepare, to get your kit ready,” Curry said. “People just need to remember when they’re in stores, COVID-19 is with us. Keep your distance, wear your mask and be thoughtful of other folks.”
He also asked stores selling supply kits to make sure their floors are marked for social distancing.
Daily COVID-19 cases reported in Florida, Jacksonville
Gov. Ron 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.