Florida health officials on Sunday reported 15,300 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 — more than any other state in America has previously reported in a single day.
The number in the Florida Department of Health’s latest update blew past the previous high, 12,274 by New York on April 4, and past Florida’s previous high of 11,458 on July 4.
While the figure reflects Florida’s ballooning case numbers in recent weeks, it may also be the result of a dramatic one-day rise in the number of reported test results. Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said on Twitter Sunday that the positivity rate — the percentage of tests that produce a positive result — was down significantly from earlier in the week. On Sunday it was just over 11%, about eight percentage points lower than the weekly average entering the day.
But a Herald analysis this past week found disturbing two-week trends — of increasing positivity and rising numbers of confirmed cases, even as testing volume remained the same.
Florida has now had 269,811 confirmed cases since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the last week alone, the state reported 69,700 cases. The state’s average daily positive test rate over the last seven days was 14.2%, well above the target 10% that health experts had recommended for reopening businesses and public spaces. It was 14.5% the week before and 9.9% the week before that.
Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties accounted for 6,547 of the new cases Sunday and 28 of the 45 newly reported deaths, which brought that pandemic total to 4,346.
The numbers come at the end of a record-breaking week as Florida reported 514 fatalities — an average of 73 per day. Three weeks ago, the state was averaging 30 deaths per day.
In response to the data, some Democratic lawmakers called on DeSantis to take immediate action to stem the spread of the disease. Miami Congresswoman Donna Shalala said a 14-day statewide stay-at-home order was needed, along with a mandatory order for people to wear masks in public.
“This will be hard, but if you didn’t want to make hard decisions you shouldn’t have run for office,” Shalala said in a tweet.
DeSantis has recommended the wearing of face masks, but he has resisted calls to mandate it, despite scientists saying the practice is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch criticized DeSantis in a statement Sunday, saying he was following the lead of President Donald Trump — himself an opponent of mandatory mask laws — instead of public health experts.
“Is Governor DeSantis even speaking to his public health officials? Or is he only listening to President Trump, who has sidelined his top public health experts like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci?” Deutch said.
Deaths from the virus have been rising in the United States, especially in the South and West, though still well below the heights hit in April.
“I really do think we could control this, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we’re in a crisis, and we’re definitely not doing it,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins.
Prins said that she’s still concerned about large crowds, gyms and some restaurants as being places of mass transmission. Reports of illegal clubs and raves in South Florida are also a worry, she said.
“I know people want to live their lives,” Prins said. “There have been a lot of other times, people have made those sacrifices in order to benefit our society. It’s almost like a war effort. That’s what we need right now.”
Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach are the top three counties for hospitalizations, with 3,232 people hospitalized — 42 percent of the 7,542 people in hospitals statewide for coronavirus.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told CNN on Sunday that the county’s hospitals will soon reach capacity, but he said more beds can be added, including for intensive care. The county reported Sunday that 393 out of 418 available Intensive Care Unit beds, or 94%, are occupied.
“We still have capacity, but it does cause me a lot of concern,” he said.
Terry Shaw, AdventHealth’s president and CEO, said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida will be “sometime in front of us in July.”
While on the program, he said that the health system, which has hospitals in nine states including 30 in Florida, has adequate PPE, a stockpile of ventilators and a clinical team that’s learned how to better treat the disease.
“I give you an example. Our length of stay in our ICU for COVID patients has dropped in half. The number of people coming in to our hospital with COVID that need a ventilator, we’ve also been able to cut that in half. And because of those things, our death rate has also been cut in half since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.
The health system’s ICU capacities in Florida are currently running at about 85% to 90%. He said the system could turn some “progressive care units“ into ICU units if needed.
Throughout May and into June, the state reopened much of its economy with some restrictions — and the number of positive cases began rising, with the daily death toll ultimately following suit.
Because of the increase in cases and the positivity rate, doctors have predicted a rise in deaths, saying the mortality rate usually increases two to four weeks later as some of those infected get sicker and eventually die. Health experts are concerned that people are gathering in crowds, and have expressed concern that the Republican National Convention’s nomination party for Trump is scheduled to be held in Jacksonville in August.
A commissioner for a county near Jacksonville is seriously ill with the virus, according to a posting by his daughter on Facebook.
St. Johns County Commissioner Paul Waldron had recently voted against a county ordinance requiring masks, but not because he opposed them. He said he wanted more answers from county administrators about which masks are most effective and whether the county had enough for employees and visitors at government buildings.
On Saturday, the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened at Walt Disney World in Orlando, concerning health experts who urge people not to gather in groups. Guests at the park said that people were wearing masks and social distancing, and videos showed near-empty parks.
Gov. DeSantis said that even with the rising rates, he still wants schools to reopen as scheduled next month, saying children have not proven to be vectors for the disease in states and countries where campuses are open. He said while each county will have to come up with procedures, depending on their local infection rate, not opening the schools would exacerbate the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students.
“We know there are huge, huge costs for not providing the availability of in-person schooling,” he said. “The risk of corona, fortunately, for students is incredibly low.”
But Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said that if the trajectory of COVID-19 hasn’t improved by late August, in-person schooling will have to wait.
“It is quite possible, [with] the social behavior and the restrictions in place ... that conditions may be appropriate and healthy for students to return to the very best model of teaching and learning, which is in person,” Carvalho said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“But we need the community’s collaboration. We need the science to drive the practice, rather than politics influencing what is legitimately a community concern.”
Miami Herald staff writers Sarah Blaskey and David J. Neal contributed to this report, which was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.