The Florida Department of Health today reported 9,636 new Covid-19 cases as of Friday, again shattering a record, the last set only the day before, when just under 8,900 cases were reported. The last two days’ totals now place Florida on the same trajectory of cases as was New York in mid-April, when cases there were between 9,000 and 11,000 a day. Florida in April never saw daily case totals exceed 1,300.
Florida is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Texas and Arizona are experiencing surges as well, as are 26 other states, but nowhere near the size of Florida’s, whose governor earlier this month was still boasting of the state’s successes in containing the disease and blaming media for hyping its severity.
On Friday he did not announce significantly different measures other than a halt to the serving of alcohol in establishments that derive more than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol, and again repeated claims that downplay the affects of gatherings while not discouraging the very mobility that has spurred the surge. “Outdoor is your friend, the sunshine is your friend, the heat and humidity is your friend,” he said. “Really nothing has changed in the past week in terms of, we had a big test dump,” he said.
Half of Florida’s 132,500 cases have been reported in the last 17 days alone as consequences of May’s rapid and unregulated reopening of the economy, coupled with rampant indifference to safety measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting gatherings to small groups led to extensive community spread of the disease. DeSantis has refused to mandate strict measures in the reopening, leaving to localities to choose for themselves. On Friday, he again stated inaccurately that masks would not make an impact.
About two dozen local governments have imposed mandatory mask-wearing rules in public places, but Flagler County and its cities have so far refused to join in, preferring to stick with voluntary recommendations. The Flagler Beach City Commission on Thursday discussed a mandatory mask rule, but did not adopt one, though the subject is likely to be brought up again when the commission meets in two weeks.
Flagler County cases have been increasing in tandem with the spike across the state, rising by 60 cases in the last seven days–a fifth of the county’s total since the first case was confirmed in March.
The Department of Health’s latest report points to an increase in testing: there were over 200,000 tests in the last three days. But contrary to misconceptions, including DeSantis’s own false attribution last week and again on Friday of higher infection rates to increased testing, the higher infection rate is driven primarily by an increase in community spread, because the percentage of those testing positive has surged: it’s been 14 percent in the last two days in Florida, and has been in the double digits every day since June 15. If anything, Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia Health Departments said on Friday, a higher positivity rate means not enough testing is taking place to detect the extent of the spike, trace it, and attempt to contain it.
DeSantis’s claim that the positivity rate can be attributed to additional testing is also misleading when Florida’s testing rate is compared to other states: while testing has increased in the state, it is still testing at rates lower than many other states where new cases are not rampant, such as New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and others. Florida’s rate of testing is still 28th out of 50 states.
Other misconceptions have been swirling around the surge’s numbers, among them claims that the surge is not resulting in additional deaths or increased pressure on hospitals, or that, because a larger number of those infected are younger, the surge’s consequences will not be as severe.
Florida’s daily death toll from the coronavirus is at 3,500. While the death toll has fallen somewhat from the 50 to 60 deaths per day recorded in April, it has not fallen anywhere near as much as many assume, with the seven-day average remaining between 30 and 40 in June, and rising again in the past week. On June 23, 65 deaths were reported. The daily totals for the next three days were 43, 46 and 39.
Deaths lag behind the incidence of new cases by several weeks. But 30 percent of the state’s Covid-19-related deaths have been reported since May 31. Flagler has recorded five Covid-19 related deaths, the last one on June 3, when an 80-year-old man died.
The current surge of new cases is expected to result in a spike in hospitalizations and deaths, though the state has routinely obscured hospitalization numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. The Department of Health shows only cumulative hospitalizations in Flagler, for example, where the number stands at 29 today. The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of today, hospitals across Florida had a bed capacity of 25 percent, and an intensive care bed capacity of 23 percent for adults and 35 percent for children.
At AdventHealth Palm Coast, ICU capacity was at 50 percent today, and total bed capacity at 31 percent. The hospital does not specify who is there for Covid-19 treatment. Flagler County reported 201 tests on Friday with seven new cases and a positivity rate of 3.4 percent, down from 9 percent the day before and 5.9 percent on June 24. The county’s positivity rate has surged this week, after being in the 1 to 3 percent range.
The current surge does affect more younger people, proportionately, than in April, but that’s an indication that younger carriers are spreading the disease more widely, and often unknowingly, as up to 50 percent of cases may be asymptomatic.
Flagler has taken pride in limiting Covid-19 infections in long-term care facilities to very few cases–three staffers at three different facilities, and one resident at a fourth, according to the Flagler Health Department. Yet those claims contradict a state report that indicates that in Flagler, the county has recorded a total of 19 Covid-19 cases affecting staffers or residents of long-term care facilities, and seven cases affecting staff or inmates at a correctional facility. Flagler has only one correctional facility: the Flagler County jail.
The surge in the South and parts of the West has resulted in new peaks in cases in the United States, with 45,500 cases reported Friday, breaking a record set the day before. The nation has recorded 2.4 million cases and 125,000 deaths so far,
a 5.2 percent fatality rate based on reported cases only. The actual rate is lower, since not all positive cases are known, but the death toll is likely higher, as several studies have indicated Covid-19 fatalities are being undercounted, with many people dying at home or away from hospitals, and never getting tested. The indications of higher fatalities related to the disease are calculated from total expected deaths in any given segment of time compared with total deaths in previous year’s averages.
“Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number,” Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in testimony before senators in mid-May, when the death toll was in the 80,000 range. “There may have been people who died at home who did have covid, who are not counted as covid because they never really got to the hospital.”
“I think you are correct that the number is likely higher,” Fauci told a senator who’d cited some estimates placing the actual tally at 50 percent higher. “I don’t know exactly what percent higher, but almost certainly it’s higher.”