Florida nears 39,000 coronavirus cases as the death toll reaches 1,600

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — Florida’s Department of Health on Thursday confirmed 826 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state closer to 39,000 confirmed cases. The state has a total of 38,828.

There were also 61 new deaths announced, raising the statewide death toll to 1,600.

Thursday’s overnight count of newly confirmed cases is the highest the state has seen since Friday, when more than 1,000 additional cases were confirmed. COVID-19 testing in the state has also increased since the weekend, with the state recording some of its highest daily numbers of new tests this week.

More than half of the new cases and deaths were in South Florida:

— Miami-Dade County saw 214 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 new deaths. The county’s known total is now at 13,585. The death toll is at 454, the highest in the state.

— Broward County reported 124 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 11 new deaths. The county’s confirmed total is now at 5,677. The death toll is at 230.

— Palm Beach County saw 107 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and seven new deaths. The county’s known total is now at 3,587. The death toll is at 222.

— Monroe County did not report any additional confirmed cases or deaths from the disease. The county has a total of 80 known cases. The Florida Keys have had a total of three deaths.

The number of deaths being reported by the state’s health department is not in line with the state’s Medical Examiners Commission.

On Wednesday, following pressure from a coalition of Florida news organizations and open-government advocates, the state released a list of every COVID-19-related fatality documented in Florida by a medical examiner. The list has fewer deaths recorded than Florida’s Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, a discrepancy that has the chairman of the Medical Examiners Commission confused and full of questions.

Previously, the death counts released by the medical examiner’s commission last month was up to 10% higher than the totals released by the Florida Department of Health.

Here’s a breakdown on what you need to know:

More than half of the known COVID-19 cases are in South Florida’s four counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe. Miami-Dade continues to lead the state with the most confirmed cases and deaths. It has 13,585 known cases and 454 deaths.

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, others don’t.

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.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez indicated during a news conference at Hard Rock Stadium’s COVID-19 testing site in Miami Gardens that South Florida’s restaurants and retailers will begin to reopen soon, a move that has city leaders divided.

The news comes a day after Palm Beach County commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to DeSantis asking to reopen nonessential businesses like the rest of the state, which reopened restaurants and shops with limited capacity Monday.

The first phase of Florida’s reopening plan excluded Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County, where the pandemic has hit the hardest. The only county in South Florida that was allowed to reopen Monday was Monroe, which has reported fewer than 100 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. Visitors still aren’t allowed in the Keys.

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 Wednesday, the state reported 35,840 new tests hitting above the mark. But on Thursday, the state again fell short of 33,000 new tests when only 27,288 were reported.

In total, 493,576 tests have been conducted. Of those, 38,828 were positive, or 7.87%. The state says there are 1,499 pending tests.

But health experts told the 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.


(Miami Herald staff writers Carol Marbin Miller, Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Mary Ellen Klas, Samantha J. Gross, Doug Hanks and Aaron Leibowitz contributed to this report.)


©2020 Miami Herald

Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.