State health officials confirmed 135 deaths, the largest death toll spike since mid-October, and nearly 11,335 more COVID-19 cases, the largest single-report increase since July.
As of the Department of Health’s Thursday update, 19,851 people have died with COVID-19 in Florida, including 19,591 Floridians and 260 nonresidents. Of those, 129 resident and six non-resident fatalities were new.
DOH also showed that 1,094,697 people have tested positive in Florida, including 18,150 nonresidents. Thursday’s report includes updates since Wednesday morning.
As coronavirus outbreaks continue across the country, the Sunshine State is also witnessing a surge in cases. Daily new cases have routinely topped 10,000, and Florida became the third state to record more than 1 million cases last week.
For all-day Wednesday, the latest complete day available, officials counted 11,234 cases from 157,462 residents tested. Among the new positives, the median age was 40.
An increase in new cases was expected following Thanksgiving with heightened travel and gatherings. In addition to the rise in new cases, a possible spike was unfolding in the state’s positivity rates, but positivity rates fell last week.
The positivity rate for new cases began increasing again the day after Thanksgiving, nearly neutralizing two weeks of improvements since positivity rates topped 10% last month. That day, the positivity rate was down to 6.2% but returned to 9.1% Dec. 1, the highest since mid-November. The rate had ebbed since then, but was back up to 8.1% by Wednesday.
However, COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by state health officials can sometimes be reported days or weeks later.
Over the summer, Gov. Ron DeSantis shifted the state’s data focus away from the raw count and percent positivity rates, pointing instead to hospital visits with symptoms related to COVID-19 as his preferred metric.
After peaking at 15,999 coronavirus-related hospitalizations the week of July 5, DOH reported that hospitalizations declined. For six consecutive weeks as of two weeks ago, the state has recorded week-over increases in hospitalizations.
Last week showed a downturn in new hospitalizations, from 8,764 two weeks ago to 7,647 last week. Officials may still update last week’s count and instead show an increase, as has happened in recent weeks.
As of Wednesday, 57,468 Floridians have been hospitalized after DOH recorded 258 new hospitalizations, a significant increase for the state that has become a new normal. The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that 4,550 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, a decrease of one since Wednesday evening.
Florida, the third most populous state, is only behind California and Texas in the total count of new cases. Officials in California have reported 1.42 million cases while officials in Texas have confirmed 1.28 million cases.
The United States has seen a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases that has disproportionately affected the Upper Midwest. Nationally, more than 3,000 Americans were reported dead Wednesday, more than on D-Day or 9/11. Officials counted 1 million new cases in the span of five days, and more than 106,000 people are in the hospital.
Nine months prior to crossing 1 million infections, after officials confirmed the first COVID-19 cases in Florida on March 1, DeSantis ordered Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in the state. Eight days after the emergency declaration, DeSantis issued a state of emergency, and both orders remain ongoing.
After the initial outbreak of new cases, at a time when access to coronavirus testing was low, officials had identified about 20,000 COVID-19 cases in Florida, recording just over 1,300 cases in a single day. After outbreaks subsided throughout April and May, cases began spiking in June and peaked at more than 15,000 cases in mid-July. In July alone, officials confirmed more than 300,000 new cases and the state’s total reached 470,386 by the end of the month.
Since October, cases have been on the rise again. The latest resurgence in coronavirus outbreaks has been a gradual increase in daily cases as opposed to the spike observed in the summer.
During his first press conference since the beginning of the month, the Governor on Monday announced that schools would remain open during the spring semester and reaffirmed his opposition to lockdowns and mask mandates. He added that preparing for COVID-19 vaccine distributions has been a priority since mid-November.
“Now that there’s a vaccine on the horizon, people say even with a vaccine social distance until 2022. No way. That is just totally overboard,” DeSantis said. “It just shows you how the goal posts have moved, and I think innocent people have been caught up in this.”
DeSantis spent his Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump held an event on vaccine distribution. The Governor said the state’s proposal calls for vaccinating seniors in nursing homes before the end of December, while also getting vaccines into the hands of “high-contact” frontline health care workers in five urban areas by the end of next week.
“This was the first vaccine that’s really been politicized, unfortunately … and that’s going to be something that people are going to have to deal with,” he added.
On Monday, the Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that officers raided the home of former DOH Division of Disease Control and Health Protection geographic information systems manager Rebekah Jones, who curated the department’s coronavirus dashboard before she was fired for what the DeSantis administration described as repeated insubordination. The search stemmed from an emergency systems breech that officers say originated from Jones’ home.
Text messages were went using a custom-made DOH program used only to notify state workers in emergency conditions.
“it’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late,” the text blast said, according to an FDLE affidavit.
Jones has been a prominent DeSantis critic, appearing in the national media to slam his coronavirus response.
On CNN during Chris Cuomo‘s Prime Time Monday evening, Jones issued a warning to her former colleagues in DOH who have been leaking her information in privacy. Those records are now in the state’s hands, she said.
“On my phone is every communication I’ve ever had with someone who works at the state who has come to me in confidence and told me things that could get them fired or in trouble like this,” Jones said, “and I just want to say to all those people right now, if he doesn’t know already, DeSantis will know soon enough that you’ve been talking to me, so be careful.”