Florida Seen as Next Virus Epicenter as Cases Top 100,000

Patrons stroll through the Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on June 16, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) — The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Florida surpassed 100,000 on Monday, a concerning milestone as the state continues its march toward economic reopening.

The Florida Department of Health reported nearly 3,000 new cases since Sunday morning and 12 deaths. More than 3,200 people in the Sunshine State have died from the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, state records show.

The steady rise in cases — almost every day last week showed a new record – directly followed the state’s second phase of reopening early this month.

On June 5, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis loosened restrictions on bars and nightclubs, allowing them to operate at 50% capacity. Restaurants were already allowed to open to half capacity during the first phase of reopening.

Retail stores also opened up and many theme parks began accepting guests.

Over the weekend, DeSantis addressed the surge in coronavirus cases, partially attributing the increase to more testing. But he also pointed to more younger people contracting the virus.

“When we started this [testing] the median age was in the 60s,” DeSantis said in Tallahassee on Saturday. “Then what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is really a dramatic decline in the median age.”

That median age is now 37, the governor said.

DeSantis has not indicated any new measures to slow the spread of the virus, but on Monday, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued a medical advisory recommending everyone wear masks in public. The governor has repeatedly said he will not issue an executive order mandating the use of masks.

An employee wearing a mask monitors the flow of customers at an Apple retail store in Miami Beach, Fla., on June 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The spike in cases comes days after a new report warned Florida “has all the makings of the next large epicenter.” Experts from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania found “the risk there is the worst it has ever been in our projections.”

“Miami and Florida’s southeastern counties now join the Tampa/Fort Myers area and Orlando for a fairly widespread transmission event that we forecast will continue throughout the state,” the report states. 

Similar to the early days of the pandemic, local leaders are issuing their own orders to try and stem the spread.

On Monday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez mandated all residents wear face coverings in public. Code enforcement officers will implement the new measures, Suarez said during a press conference. But he acknowledged, “Without a doubt, enforcement will be a challenge.” Miami-Dade County remains a hotspot for the virus.

Similarly, the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg announced new rules requiring face coverings in public.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also issued an order over the weekend mandating all residents to wear face coverings in public. The county includes the tourist mecca of Orlando. Demings pointed to the disturbing trend of positive test results in residents under 30 years old.

“The executive order is in the best interest in businesses, especially bars and restaurants. I’ll tell you, we do not want to experience another shutdown in our community,” Demings said during a press conference on Monday.

A local businessman, backed by a Republican state representative and the Orange County Republican Party chairman, filed a lawsuit against Demings and the county on Monday, seeking to block the executive order requiring masks in public.

“The emergency order is a radical infringement of the reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy that most Floridians expect to have over their own bodily and facial autonomy,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the state.

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