More than 1,000 individuals have now tested positive for COVID-19 in Lee County, according to the Department of Health. That makes Southwest Florida’s most populous county the eighth in the state to pass the grim milestone.
The data point was passed the same day Lee County fully opened its beaches, the most populous county in Florida to take that step to date. Pinellas County has a larger population, but its beaches won’t open until Monday.
Leaders remained optimistic about the pandemic, believing Florida and Lee County have “flattened the curve.” The region continues to see more cases, but not like the totals seen in neighboring South Florida. And while the mortality rate in the region has drawn attention in the retiree-rich portion of Florida, the officials’ focus has now turned toward returning citizens to work.
“The good news is the disease does not seem to be spreading at a rate to overwhelm our hospitals by any means,” said Lee County Commission Chair Brian Hamman.
Data from the Department of Health shows Lee County with 1,003 recorded positive cases of COVID-19, including 41 deaths.
Manatee County has 567 cases, including 49 deaths, many of those tied to outbreaks in area nursing homes. Sarasota County has seen 42 deaths among the 338 positive cases there.
Collier County borders the two most infected counties in Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward. But it reports just a fraction of the cases, 581 with 17 deaths.
In the region’s more rural counties numbers are expectedly lower. Charlotte County has seen 223 positive cases and 18 deaths.
Inland Highlands County has reported 81 cases and 7 deaths. In Hendry County, 3 individuals died of the 80 reported positive cases. DeSoto County reports just 28 cases and four deaths. Glades County has seen just 6 cases of COVID-19 with only one death. Hardee has reported 16 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.
Rep. Cary Pigman, a doctor practicing medicine in Highlands County, said the data has to be carefully digested in Florida’s more rural regions.
“Up until a couple weeks ago, we didn’t do COVID-19 tests unless people were sick enough to go to the hospital,” the Avon Park Republican said. “The only people we were testing were the sickest of the sick. And of those only about 10% were dying.”
It raises the question of how much testing needs to be expanded in the region. As a physician, Pigman said he’d like if every resident of Florida was given an antibodies test.
“But from a public policy perspective, I don’t have a necessity for that,” he said. “Instead of that, I’m looking at how many die a day, and how many are diagnosed and are hospitalized.”
Hamman said Lee Health has consistently reported between 65 and 75 people being hospitalized at its facilities on any given day of late. Far more have been treated and discharged.
The Southwest Florida region as a whole reports 2,923 positive cases of COVID-19. That includes 182 deaths.
That’s in a 10-county region significantly lower than Miami-Dade County, which has had 11,927 positive cases of COVID-19 and 338 deaths.
Hamman said his top focus has been on whether the virus is spreading. The rate of positive tests taken in the are4a has floated around 9%, even as more testing sites in the area opened. And if things change, the region remains much better prepared for an escalation in cases than it was two months ago.
“I hope we will get people back to work,” Hamman said. “When you see constituents missing paychecks for two months, the situation is dire. It’s heartbreaking see residents of your community go to food pantries every day.”