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For the second day in a row, state health officials reported 13,000 new COVID-19 diagnoses, levels not seen since the pandemic’s peak in July.
Following the 13,128 cases reported Thursday, the Department of Health included precisely 13,000 Friday, the fourth-largest single-day jump in Florida’s more than 9 months in the pandemic.
Only July 16, the Department of Health confirmed nearly 14,000 new cases, still the second highest single-report jump in the state’s caseload. At that time, the Sunshine State was at its peak in daily cases, averaging about 12,000 per day.
Daily new cases have routinely topped 10,000, and Florida became the third state to record more than 1 million cases this month. As of Friday, 1,181,483 have tested positive, including 19,530 nonresidents.
For all-day Thursday, the latest complete day available, officials counted 13,019 cases from 169,137 residents tested. Among the new positives, the median age was 40.
The death toll reached 20,690 Friday after officials confirmed 96 resident fatalities and no nonresident fatalities. The pandemic has claimed the lives of 20,401 Floridians.
An increase in new cases was expected following Thanksgiving, as with the coming holidays, 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 rates have since been fluctuating.
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. Florida topped that again with a 9.7% positivity rate Monday, followed by 9.3% Tuesday, 8.7% Wednesday and 8.8% Thursday.
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 seven 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 9,131 two weeks ago to 7,915 last week. Officials may still update last week’s count and instead show an increase, as has happened in recent weeks.
As of Friday, 59,602 Floridians have been hospitalized after DOH recorded 311 new hospitalizations, in line with the new normal increase in hospitalizations. The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that 5,178 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, a decrease of 51 since Thursday afternoon.
This week, the nation kicked off what could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic. DeSantis was at Tampa General Hospital to sign for Florida’s first vaccine delivery and looked on as the first frontline worker received a vaccine.
“Here we are, much less than a year, these vaccines have already been administered in Great Britain and Canada. They’re now going to be administered here in the United States,” the Governor said.
On Wednesday, he announced that DOH and Division of Emergency Management strikes teams had begun vaccinating residents and staff at longterm care facilities. CVS and Walgreens were to begin administering shots next week, but DeSantis told reporters that he “didn’t want the entire fortunes to be in the hands of what those companies did.”
“We’re not waiting. We cannot just wait ’till Monday,” the Governor said. “We’ve got to use what we have, and we’re going to continue in that mission until the job is done.”
But late Thursday, he announced that Walgreens would begin administering vaccines in Jacksonville Friday, three days ahead of schedule.
In March, the United States began Operation Warp Speed to fast track a vaccine through the development and distribution process. Experts, including one present for the press conference, anticipated the vaccine might not be ready for public use until 2021. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the vaccine their final approval Friday.
The United States has seen a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases that has disproportionately affected the Upper Midwest.
Florida, the third most populous state, is only behind California and Texas in the total count of new cases. Officials in California have reported 1.67 million cases, including 53,711 in an update Tuesday, while officials in Texas have confirmed 1.35 million cases.
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.
Earlier this month DeSantis was 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 this 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,” DeSantis said.
While the FDA decision came only after public review of data from a large ongoing study, it has also been dogged by intense political pressure from the Trump administration, which has accused the agency of being too slow and even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a ruling did not come Friday.
Instead of giving two doses, as the pharmaceutical manufacturer recommends, to high-risk populations such as nursing home residents and front-line hospital workers, the Governor on Friday suggested perhaps one dose could do.
“Just get as many doses out there,” the Governor said during a mental-health roundtable in Tampa. “I’m not sure that Pfizer would agree or FDA would agree, but I think just the point is, getting that first dose out really does make a difference, and I think you’ll see that.”
But on Monday, he sided with the federal rollout strategy. For each dose delivered, the federal government is holding on to a second dose until it’s time to distribute them.
“They didn’t want to send it all, I think smartly, because you don’t want to just keep 200,000 vaccines and tell someone they can’t get it, so you’re going to use that. And then when it’s time for the booster — 21 days — those other shots will come.”