The Villages residents just weeks ago were refusing to cancel club meetings, with many dismissing the coronavirus as a hoax.
But as of Wednesday morning, well over 100 Villagers tested positive for COVID-19. The mortality rate for Sumter County, where most of the retirement community sits, nearly a dozen had died from the disease. The mortality rate in the county was more than triple that of the state as a whole.
In fact, an analysis by Florida Politics shows that among those counties with greater than 100 cases of COVID-19, the mortality rate for Sumter County remains the highest in Florida. Perhaps that’s unsurprising considering the Census Bureau lists the county’s population, with a median age of 67, as the oldest in the United States.
It’s a stark reminder how COVID-19 poses a particular risk to those over the age of 65. Florida’s five oldest counties, which happen to be the five oldest in the country with populations of great than 50,000 people, all have mortality rates from COVID-19 greater than Florida overall.
“The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19 illness,” said Megan McCarthy, senior health educator for the Sumter County Health Department. “It’s important for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems to take precautions to reduce their risk of becoming ill with COVID-19.”
Sumter has seen 114 individuals test positive for COVID-19, according to the Department of Health. That includes 62 residents of The Villages. A total of 11 Sumter residents died from the disease so far, putting the mortality rate at 9.65%.
Florida as a whole has a mortality rate of 2.68%. Nationwide, the rate of deaths from COVID-19 has been about 4.27%. Data from the World Health Organization puts the worldwide mortality rate around 6.42%.
Overall, that seems to suggest Florida has avoided the worst of it, but in the oldest population pockets in the state suffer consequences of infection that are typically worse.
In Charlotte County, the median age reaches almost 59 years old. A total of 123 there have tested positive for COVID-19, and five have died, pegging mortality at 4.07%.
That’s better than in Citrus County, where only 74 individuals have tested positive but seven have succumbed to COVID-19, or 9.46%.
In Sarasota County, with a 6.48% mortality rate, a total of 16 residents have died out of 247 who tested positive there.
And in Highland County, five have died out of 62 tested positive, a death rate of 8.06%.
But the difference in the impact on older populations gets demonstrated as well in Florida’s youngest counties.
In college-dominated counties Leon and Alachua, which have the lowest and second lowest median ages in Florida respectively, hundreds have contracted COVID-19 none to date have died. Leon has thus far seen 152 test positive, Alachua has seen 192.
In Hendry County, where the median age remains under 34, only 23 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 and none have died. In demographically similar Hardee County, just three people have tested positive and all live.
The only county to suffer fatalities among Florida’s youngest is densely populated Orange County, where COVID-19 cases just reached quadruple digits. But even there, 18 of 1,051 known cases have perished. That puts the mortality rate there lower than in any county with more than a million residents.
That’s not to say the disease can only kill the old. Indeed, Sarasota’s death tally includes a 28-year-old man, to date the youngest person in Florida to die from COVID-19.
But the rates now could signal the areas most at risk should a pandemic grow.
More patients died in Miami as it became one the national hotspots for coronavirus spread. But even with 7,863 cases of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County, 146 people have died, or 1.86% of known cases. That’s a lower mortality rate than Florida-wide, and it’s in a county where the median age is just under 40.
What would it mean if the spread in The Villages grew to thousands? For one, that would be striking a much higher percent of the population. About 80,000 live in The Villages, and Sumter County as a whole serves as home to nearly 121,000 people.
But wider spread likely means more tragedy in Florida’s oldest counties, and potentially a shift upward in Florida’s mortality rate overall if the coronavirus cannot be contained.
The most recent modeling from the University of Washington show 4,748 Floridians will ultimately die from COVID-19, more than nine times as many have died thus far.
McCarthy said in Sumter County, test sites have been established and every effort has been made to ensure everybody who needs a test for COVID-19 gets a test.
“If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, it is important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of contracting the virus. Those actions include staying home as much as possible, practicing social distancing, washing your hands frequently with soap and water, and practicing a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
“Any individual, no matter their age or medical history, should consult with their health care provider should they develop symptoms.”