Last Updated: 4:08 p.m.
On the even of a statewide stay-home order that begins after midnight tonight as a result of the coronavirus, Floridians, public health and emergency management officials are contending with rapidly accelerating indices of crisis, from infection numbers to hospitalizations to unemployment figures that are triggering a different sort of emergency even for those unaffected by the virus.
Florida’s confirmed Covid-19 cases jumped by over 1,000 in 24 hours according to the Department of Health’s Thursday morning report, the largest day-over-day increase to date, while cases in Flagler County also saw their largest single-day increase, jumping to 24 from 20 the day before, with four hospitalizations. The disease claimed the first death of a Flagler County resident on Wednesday afternoon, 70-year-old Dorothy Strickland of Flagler Beach.
AdventHealth Palm Coast has 25 percent available capacity among its 112 beds, according to figures released by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration today.
Across the state, 128 Floridians have died of the disease, a third of the deaths, or 41, being recorded in the last 24 hours. More than 1,000 Floridians have been hospitalized.
Eighteen of Flagler County’s cases affect Palm Coast residents. But the Department of Health is not releasing more precise information. Flagler Beach and Bunnell have one case each. Two of the county’s cases affect non-Flagler residents, and two are in unincorporated Flagler.
The Department of Florida’s numbers now show only a small minority of cases as travel related, with infection resulting in increasingly large numbers through confirmed contact with other infected individuals, or through means the department could not trace. In other words, community transmission is now the norm.
In the seven days through March 24, 14,298 Floridians were tested, an average of just over 2,000 per day. Over the next seven days, 50,961 were tested, an average of 7,280. The numbers are rising: 9,198 people were tested on Wednesday across the state. The percentage testing positive has varied each day, ranging from 7 percent some days to 13 percent other days. On Wednesday, 13 percent of those tested were positive.
Testing in Flagler remains low, with 254 people tested through Wednesday including 30 tests at AdventHealth Palm Coast, where three individuals have tested positive. Of the five cases confirmed on Wednesday in Flagler, one affects an out-of-state visitor with connections to California and Nebraska. Two of the new cases affecting Flagler residents were connected to the residents’ recent travels to Alabama. Otherwise, the new cases could not be traced to known factors.
Though no one is immune from testing positive, younger people are least likely to do so, with just 76 children 14 or younger testing positive in Florida. But numbers begin to rise with the 15-24 age group, which accounts for 8 percent of all infections, then rise even more sharply for all other age groups, with the disease affecting individuals evenly. The numbers fall again in the 75-84 age group, but that’s in large part due to the smaller demographics in that bracket.
Eighty-seven of Florida’s cases affect residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, the majority of them in South Florida. Flagler County’s long-term care facilities have so far been spared, as has the Flagler County jail and other co-called congregate places.
Hospitalizations, however, affect older people disproportionately: no children younger than 14 have been hospitalized. Only 5 percent of people between 15 and 34 have been hospitalized, and 9 percent of people 24 to 44. But after that the proportions climb, with those between 55 and 74 accounting for 43 percent of all hospitalizations. The disproportion is especially grim with fatalities: one younger than 24 has died of the disease in Florida, and 18 people between the ages of 25 and 64 have died, or 14 percent of the total. All 110 others are 65 and older, underscoring orders such as Flagler County’s urging all people 65 and older to restrict their movement, though as of midnight tonight a statewide stay-at-home order goes in effect.
The order includes numerous exemptions, including exemptions for people food shopping, exercising, walking their dog, and the like. But local health and emergency management officials are urging residents not to look for excuses to go out and to take the stay-at-home orders seriously. “Residents and businesses should not focus on what the exemptions are,” said Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord. “Instead, everyone is to focus on the fact – and it is fact – that you are safer at home. This is where people need to be if we are going to flatten the curve of this deadly disease.”
All local governments have closed their facilities to the public, continuing to provide service through walk-up windows on a limited basis. The courthouse has been an exception, but on Wednesday, Flagler County Clerk of Court Tom Bexley announced more limited services.
“We understand that the public’s access to the judiciary must be maintained. The challenge now is how best to do that while protecting the health and safety of all involved” Bexley said. “Moving forward, the Clerk’s office will further limit access to its operations by screening those that enter into the building and limiting their access to the lobby in the atrium. I want to make it clear that business will continue to the extent it can. Most functions can still be done through electronic means from our website. These are trying times for us all.”
More than 40 Florida Highway Patrol employees are self-isolating because of exposure to the novel coronavirus, including three state troopers who tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesman confirmed to The News Service of Florida on Thursday.
Employees have self-isolated after coming into close contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19, the contagious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. Others have self-isolated because they traveled to virus hotspots or were exposed to people who traveled to those areas. Aaron Keller, communications director for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said the troopers who tested positive are part of Troop E in Miami, Troop L in Lake Worth and Troop I in Panama City. Troop G out of Jacksonville, which includes Flagler County, appears unaffected for now.
The state now makes near real-time data on hospital bed capacity available. About 40 percent of hospital beds statewide were available as of Thursday. In intensive care-units, 37 percent of adult beds and 40 percent of pediatric beds were available. The Agency for Health Care Administration launched the data site on Thursday. The hospital-bed data is available by county, hospital and statewide. Broward County, which has been hard hit by the virus, had 41.5 percent of its beds available Thursday, including psychiatric and rehabilitation beds. About 35 percent of the county’s adult ICU beds were not being used. Meanwhile, nearly 38 percent of all hospital beds in Miami-Dade County remained available, while about 32 percent of adult ICU beds were empty. And in Palm Beach County, 43.35 percent of all hospital beds were available and about 35 percent of adult ICU beds were open.
AHCA Secretary Mary Mayhew said in a prepared statement the data will help state officials and others deal with the public health crisis. “This publicly reported data will be a critical statewide resource for anticipating individual hospital needs and monitoring bed availability across Florida,” she said. “Hospital admissions and discharges are a fluid situation, and the reporting of bed availability and census will help inform emergency management decisions and coordinated local and statewide response in the event of hospital surge scenarios.”
Nationally, the country was shaken by several numbers on Thursday morning: with 235,000 cases nationwide, the figure is more than twice that of Italy’s or Spain’s, and three times that of China, though China’s numbers–both net cases and deaths–have come under increasing scrutiny, with questions about accuracy and possible undercounts. The number of deaths in the United States was rapidly approaching 6,000, and infections worldwide were expected to reach 1 million today, with more than 51,000 deaths around the globe. Some 210,000 people previously infected have recovered, more than 10,000 of them in the United States.
The other number that shook the United States this morning was the Department of Labor’s tally of weekly unemployment claim: 6.6 million, on top of last week’s 3.3 million. Before the coronavirus emergency, the largest number of unemployment filings for a single week since the department has been keeping records was 695,000 in 1982. The figures point to economic devastation already ravaging millions of families, with worse to come now that the federal government has conceded that stay-in-place orders must be complied with through the end of April.
In Florida, the unemployment rate in February was at 2.9 percent, and 3.6 percent in Flagler County. Floridians will soon be looking at the numbers wistfully. But the state’s heavy reliance on tourism and the hospitality industry means that it may be disproportionately battered by the coming recession.
In the state, 227,000 Floridians filed unemployment claims, the state’s labor department reported today, up from 74,313 the previous week. In other words, more people filed for unemployment in the past two weeks in Florida (301,000) than had been unemployed in the state (291,000) before the emergency. The state has a workforce of 10.5 million. This week’s figures point to an unemployment rate already skyrocketing to close to 6 percent.
Florida has lifted a requirement that people qualifying for unemployment benefits must wait a week before their first checks are sent. State Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson on Tuesday signed an order that temporarily waives the one-week waiting period before people can start to collect benefits. Lawson noted in the order that “strict compliance” with the rule “would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency.” The waiting period had been among several issues raised by Democrats and labor leaders, who have complained about the unemployment-compensation system.
Democrats and labor leaders also have requested changes such as an expansion of the number of weeks benefits are available from 12; considering workers’ most-recent quarter of earnings when calculating potential benefits as a way to help seasonal workers; and changing eligibility requirements that currently include filling out an application that can take several hours. Gov. Ron DeSantis has already waived a requirement related to people searching for work.
Meanwhile, he has urged people to be patient as the unemployment-compensation is flooded with applications. The state received 74,313 applications for unemployment compensation during the week that ended March 21. The following week, there were 222,054 applications. On Sunday, the state received 21,137 applications. Florida offers some of the lowest unemployment-compensation benefits in the country, up to $275 a week for 12 weeks. The federal stimulus law is slated to provide an additional $600 a week, for four months, to people who qualify for jobless benefits.
–The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.