Florida Quickly Becoming Virus Epicenter After Single-Day Record

Even as coronavirus cases approach the 300,000 mark, Florida marches toward reopening.

Guests wear masks as required to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Saturday. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

MIAMI (CN) — Florida’s coronavirus cases swelled again Monday, a day after the state reported a record-breaking number of new cases, prompting Democratic lawmakers to criticize Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ response to the public health crisis.

The Florida Department of Health’s latest update reported 12,351 people tested positive for the coronavirus, a slight drop from Sunday’s record of 15,283 cases, which smashed any state’s single-day total since the pandemic began. 

Health officials also recorded 35 more deaths Monday. More than 4,200 Floridians have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, state records show, and about 280,000 have contracted it.

The Sunshine State also reported more than 600 new virus hospitalizations as hospital capacity rapidly diminishes in the state’s metro areas. There are more than 8,000 infected people in hospitals around the state.

State officials recently asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send 1,500 nurses to Florida’s hospitals.

At a press conference Saturday at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, DeSantis continued to stress the rise in cases correlates with expanded testing.

Indeed, the following day saw a record number of tests: 142,972. More than 2.4 million people in Florida have been tested since March, according to state health officials.

But the state’s positivity rate of 11.5% remains much higher the World Health Organization’s target of 5% or less, though the rate has lowered from 18% last week.

An employee at the Clevelander bar and restaurant in Miami Beach, Fla., stacks chairs on Monday as the business shuts down due to public health concerns over Covid-19. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

DeSantis said the positivity rate has “plateaued.”

“Which is a good sign,” the governor said. “We’d rather be plateaued at 4%, but we didn’t want to see it go up and up.”

The dramatic rise in cases — nearly each week brings a new single-day record – directly followed the state’s second phase of reopening on June 5. Even after DeSantis closed all bars two weeks ago, the state’s high number of cases persists.

Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, continues to see the most cases, despite a slower reopening than the rest of Florida, and a much higher positivity rate of 16%.

In virtual press conference with reporters on Monday, a group of Democratic lawmakers from Miami-Dade County slammed the Republican governor’s response to the growing number of cases.

“Florida is breaking all the wrong records,” said Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, pointing to the lack of a statewide mask ban, not enough contact tracing and long wait times for test results.

“The longer we wait,” she said, “the more the virus will spread.”

Testing sites usually require preregistration online or by phone. Once registered, the wait in line can take hours and providers run out of tests early. If someone does receive a test, results can take a week or more.  

State Senator Annette Taddeo, who represents part of Miami, said her daughter began showing symptoms recently but she could not get a test.

“And I’m a state senator,” Taddeo said.

“We have as a state and as a country been running after the virus instead of getting ahead of it,” she added.  

DeSantis still plans to reopen schools in a month despite pleas from some parents and teachers.

“We’re proud of our distance learning in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said on Saturday. “As much as we’re proud of that, there’s an achievement gap that’s developed, there’s no doubt about it. That will only be exacerbated as long as this happens.”

He characterized the risk for students as “incredibly low” and said children “aren’t vectors for this, for whatever reason.”

“They usually get infected by the parents,” the governor added. “They’re usually not infecting adults.”

But some health experts disagree.

“There is a problem with public perception on the risk of this virus,” Florida International University epidemiologist Dr. Aileen Marty said in an interview. “Just because they don’t feel symptoms does not mean they don’t have symptoms. We can see the damage in their lungs.”

That includes children, said Marty, who is advising the Miami-Dade School District. 

“We know from several studies that their viral load is the same as anyone else,” she said. “That means they are just as good as transmitting the virus as any adult. You’re going to have an increased transmission to the community.”

Even as Florida’s coronavirus cases approach 300,000, the state marches toward reopening.

On Saturday, Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom theme parks opened to the public. Employees wore masks and some attractions remain closed. Disney did not provide customer numbers over the weekend, videos posted online show the parks sparsely populated.

Bars are still shuttered across the Florida, but any wider shutdown seems unlikely statewide.

Individual counties, though, could roll back the reopening of restaurants and other public venues.

Earlier this month, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced an executive order closing all restaurants, except for takeout and delivery, along with party venues and short-term rentals. That followed a face mask mandate for indoor establishments and an overnight curfew.

During a virtual press conference on Monday, Gimenez said more restrictions are “on the table,” but blamed the explosion of coronavirus cases on residents for not following face mask mandates and social distancing guidelines.

“We keep looking for a boogeyman,” Gimenez said. “We keep looking for this reason why we have this high contagion. ‘Well, we didn’t have enough contact traces. Well, we don’t have enough testing.’ The reason is us. The reason is us, okay? There is no boogeyman, it’s us.”

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