Florida Reaches Record Number of Coronavirus Deaths

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis updates the press in Orlando, Fla., in a July 10. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

(CN) — Florida recorded a record number of deaths from the coronavirus on Friday for the fourth day in a row as health officials scramble to contain the state’s second wave of cases.

The Florida Department of Health’s latest update reported 257 new deaths of residents, five more than Thursday and dozens more than Tuesday. Due to the way the state gathers records, the deaths could have occurred days or even weeks earlier.

More than 6,800 Floridians have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus and about 470,000 have contracted it.

Health officials recorded more than 9,000 new cases on Friday — down from the nearly daily 10,000-plus cases seen in the Sunshine State for weeks, but still higher than most states.

Miami-Dade, the state’s most populous county, continues to see the greatest number of cases despite a slower reopening than the rest of Florida.

Equally concerning for public health officials, the positivity rate among Floridians hovers around 19%, according to data obtained by John Hopkins University, far higher than the 5% recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

“We’re actually liking some of the trends we’ve been seeing,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference on Friday, adding emergency room visits are down along with hospitalizations.

There are currently 8,200 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, state records show.

“We believe we have momentum,” DeSantis said. “I think there are a lot of positive indicators.”

The Republican governor has taken flack from Democrats and some health experts for his response to the pandemic, including his refusal to mandate face masks statewide. Many cities and counties mandated face mask use in public places over the last three weeks to try and quell the spread of the coronavirus. DeSantis also supports reopening schools in August.

Recent polls show DeSantis’ popularity falling among Floridians. In a Mason-Dixon poll released Friday, 49% of respondents disapproved of the governor’s job performance with 45% approving. The polling firm’s earlier surveys before the pandemic showed DeSantis with an approval rating higher than 60%.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll put DeSantis’ approval rating at 41%. That same poll found 79% of Floridians think face masks should be mandated in public places and 62% do not approve of opening schools.

“Just a few months ago, Florida was a safe harbor for Covid refugees from up north,” said Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac University polling analyst. “Now, it registers a startling number of infections and the numbers say the buck stops at Governor DeSantis’ desk in Tallahassee.”

During the press conference Friday, DeSantis said some state-run testing sites in South Florida will close due to the possible effects of Hurricane Isaias. This will most certainly result in less reported cases for the next few days.

Delays in testing results have hampered state officials’ efforts to contain the virus, DeSantis said.

“Some of these tests that get reported, we’ll get data dumps for positives that were three weeks ago,” he said. “So, first of all, for the patient to get their test results in real time I think is really important. But then that can be reported to the state, so if we know there are this many people that tested positive yesterday, that’s a much better way to understand how the pandemic is unfolding.”

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