MIAMI — Florida’s Department of Health on Wednesday morning confirmed 563 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total of confirmed cases to 38,002. There were 68 new deaths announced, raising the statewide death toll to 1,539.
Wednesday’s overnight death count was the third highest announced by the health department. Tuesday’s death toll tied with April 14 as the second highest number of deaths. The most deaths recorded in a single day was on April 28, with 83.
More than half of the new cases and deaths were in South Florida:
— Mami-Dade County saw 147 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 25 new deaths. The county’s known total is now at 13,371. The death toll is at 432, the highest in the state.
— Broward County reported 61 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths. The county’s confirmed total is now at 5,553. The death toll is at 219.
— Palm Beach County saw 90 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths. The county’s known total is now at 3,480. The death toll is at 215.
— Monroe County did not report any additional confirmed cases of the disease or any new deaths. The Florida Keys have a total of 80 known cases and three deaths.
The number of deaths reported by the state Department of Health may be incomplete. The list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by Florida’s medical examiners has shown the death count was up to 10% higher than what the Florida Department of Health has released.
Despite the daily reports of new cases and deaths, local and state officials have previously said that decreases in the daily total of reported cases are signs that social distancing measures are working.
Officials are also relying on hospitalization data. Unlike testing, which might be limited or take days to report results, hospitalizations can help give officials a real-time visual of how many people are severely ill with COVID-19.
The health department says it doesn’t “have a figure” to reflect the number of people currently hospitalized and only provides the total number of hospitalizations in its statewide and county-level data. But hospitals in Miami-Dade are self-reporting a number of key metrics, including hospitalizations, to the county. Some provide updates every day.
Hospitalizations in Miami-Dade dropped to 603 Tuesday, the lowest in almost a month. While officials haven’t seen a decline in hospitalizations for a prolonged period yet, they say the stabilization is a good sign.
But, because scientists are still working to learn more about the virus, including how many people in the community are actually infected with the disease and have mild or no symptoms, it’s difficult to determine what percentage of the cases hospitalizations represent.
The spread of COVID-19 in Florida likely began in January or even earlier, months before the state would announce its first two cases on March 1, according to a Miami Herald analysis of recently published Florida Department of Health data.
Health officials identified at least 170 patients reporting COVID-19 symptoms between Dec. 31, 2019, and Feb. 29, with some of the earliest Florida cases identified by the Herald — including residents and visitors — ranging in age from 4 to 91. Ten of them died.
Testing in Florida has seen a steady growth since the COVID-19 crisis began — with a steady decline in the percentage of people testing positive — but less than 2% of the population has been tested for the disease, according to a Miami Herald analysis.
Testing, like hospitalizations, helps officials determine the virus’ progress and plays a role in deciding whether it is safe to lift stay-at-home orders and loosen restrictions.
And based on the Miami Herald’s analysis, the state is significantly behind the amount of tests experts recommend is needed to safely reopen restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses.
The recommended numbers of daily tests needed varies by experts but the dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine told the governor Florida needs to test about 33,000 people every day.
The state reached its recommended mark for the first time Saturday, with 33,597 new tests, before falling several thousands short of it again until Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the state reported 37,544 new tests, which was a nearly 10,000 increase from Monday. In total, 466,288 tests have been conducted. Of those, 37,439 were positive, or 8.03 percent. The state says there are 1,265 pending tests. Testing data for Wednesday was not immediately available.
But health experts told the Miami Herald last month they were concerned the number of pending COVID-19 tests listed by the state is an undercount because Florida reports only the number of Floridians waiting to get test results from state labs, not private ones — and private labs are completing more than 90% of state tests.
Previously, it’s taken as long as two weeks for the results of pending tests from private labs to be added into the state’s official count, making it difficult for officials to project the size and scale of the pandemic in the state. It’s unclear how quickly results are currently being sent to the state from private labs.
(Miami Herald staff writers Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Ben Conarck, Daniel Chang and Devoun Cetoute contributed to this report.)
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