Florida is on the verge of a COVID-19 resurgence

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida’s rising number of COVID-19 cases could be the leading edge of a dangerous spike that could continue for months as the state remains wide open for business, tourism and education, public health experts warn.

A decline of cases since the summer surge is over, four weeks into the state’s Phase 3 reopening of bars and restaurants at full service, state and national data indicates.

With Gov. Ron DeSantis promising there’s no chance of a return to lockdowns, no matter the severity of another surge, we can expect more people will need hospital treatment and more will die, experts say.

“My worry for Florida is that the embers are out there and they’re starting to burn, and by the time we see it in the numbers that are reported officially, it’s too late, and you’re going to see it only in the rearview mirror and wish you’d been a little more aggressive,” said Dr. Thomas Giordano, chief of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

As of Friday, the number of new COVID cases per day in Florida had increased 36.4% over the past week (3,335) compared to 14 days earlier (2,445.) That followed a 6.1% decrease in the state’s average daily cases in the two weeks from Sept. 25 to Oct. 9.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force as recently as Oct. 11 cited “early warning signs” of an uptick in Florida cases.

A report obtained Thursday by the Orlando Sentinel came with recommendations for more testing and “mask and physical distancing messages for all residents, both in public and private spaces.”

Florida, which had been withholding the report from the public, released it under pressure from the Sentinel’s lawyers.

“There’s a real effort to obfuscate the pandemic, for reasons beyond my comprehension, because sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make it go away,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University in Miami.

Florida is not alone among Sunbelt states that were hit hard by outbreaks in the summer. Many improved considerably in September and are experiencing a new rise in cases.

In Texas, the seven-day average of cases increased by 20.5% between Oct. 8 and Thursday. Arizona’s cases were up 47.1% over the same stretch, based on information from the COVID Tracking Project.

In California, which has had limited reopenings — Disneyland still remains closed — average daily cases are up only 5.7% over the past two weeks.

California, the most-populous state in the nation, has seen a rate of 8.1 new cases for every 100,000 people in the last seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida is almost twice as high at 15.2 cases per 100,000 people — more than Arizona’s 12.3 cases but less than Texas’ 17.6 cases.

The situation is far worse in the country’s upper Midwest, which is in the throes of a major coronavirus surge, according to the CDC. North Dakota has recorded 101.9 cases for

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Florida Official: No Birthday Parties to Keep Virus Away | Florida News

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The top health official in one of Florida’s most populous counties is discouraging parents from hosting birthday parties for their children, no matter the size, in an effort to prevent outbreaks of the new coronavirus.

Dr. Raul Pino, health officer for Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said half of the 30 attendees at a recent Sweet 16 party in the Orlando area came down with the virus. Last month, an Orange County high school closed for two weeks after students who had attended a birthday party tested positive for the virus.

“Those parties will not only affect those people participating in that activity, but also everyone else they come into contact with when they leave,” Pino said Thursday at a news conference. “I’m absolutely sure no one wants this to happen. We will continue to see consequences if we don’t act super-responsibly.”

Orange County, which is home to some of the nation’s most famous theme park resorts, has had a moderate uptick in virus cases in the past few days, Pino said.

In recent days, the county’s positivity rate has crossed into the 6% range after being in the 5% range. Maintaining the positivity rate around 5% makes it possible to contact trace and isolate people, keeping the virus under control, Pino said.

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A deadline, then a viral surge and Florida hospitals miss out on pandemic aid

Florida’s caseload surged around the June cutoff date for the high-impact distribution. Between March and June 10, 2,801 people in the state had died from Covid-19 and 67,371 had tested positive for the virus, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

Two months after the cutoff date, deaths had nearly tripled and the state was coping with an eightfold increase in cases.

Jackson and Shands are among 30 safety net hospitals designated to treat Florida’s poorest and typically uninsured residents. Combined, the hospitals have treated 60 percent of the state’s 46,693 hospitalized Covid-19 patients, but have received a sliver of the funding given to some states that saw fewer infections.

Gainesville-based Shands Hospital lost $160 million in revenue because of the pandemic and has received only $31.4 million in CARES Act aid. The shortfall forced Shands CEO Ed Jimenez to freeze employee raises indefinitely.

“Imagine you’re a nurse, and you take care of Covid patients, and your boss just said you don’t get a raise,” Jimenez said in an interview. “If Florida had gotten its fair share, if the safety nets had gotten their fair share, if my hospital had not been overlooked in the safety net tranche, things would be better.”

“They wouldn’t be great but they’d be better,” Jimenez said.

While Shands received $31.4 million from the Provider Relief Fund’s first phase of general distribution, it received no high-impact aid.

Jackson, which lost more than $78 million in revenue from the pandemic, said it received a combined $108 million from high-impact and general distributions. HHS data shows Jackson received $83.1 million from the high-impact fund.

And both Shands and Jackson got nothing from $14.4 billion set aside for safety net providers because, under HHS rules, both hospitals made too much money.

In Jackson’s case, the federal agency counted revenue from a tax levied by Miami-Dade County that funds the hospital. At Shands, Jimenez was unable to write off $68 million tied to the teaching hospital’s partnership with the University of Florida.

“After that, not a dime,” Jimenez said of the first phase of cash. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott heard his complaints, he said, but the Republican lawmakers told him there was little they could do.

“At the end of the day, it’s HHS, which is not subject to the will of the Congress or Senate,” JImenez said.

Talks with HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan about updating the distribution rules went nowhere, Migoya said.

“Deputy Secretary Hargan was talking to me about it, and trying to figure out how to help us,” Migoya said. “It still didn’t happen.

“Obviously that was never the intent of the CARES money — that was to make up for lost revenues, but we’re not even close to that,” Migoya said.

When asked about the complaints from Jimenez and Migoya, a HHS spokesperson who would speak only on the condition of anonymity pointed to $20 billion set aside for Phase 3 of the general distribution, which opened for applications Oct.

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Florida reports another uptick in new coronavirus cases

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida reported another uptick in new coronavirus infections on Saturday, surging to more than 4,000 cases — the highest number in two months.

The state also reported nearly 90 more deaths, which pushed its official death toll to nearly 16,000 Floridians since March. Since the outbreak began, Florida has recorded more than 752,00 coronavirus cases.

The rise in Florida comes as infections are increasing alarmingly in other parts of the country, particularly in the Midwest and other areas that were relatively spared during the earlier onslaught of the COVID-19 outbreak.

There was no immediate explanation for the rising numbers. It’s the third time in the past seven days that the number of new cases has well exceeded 3,000, according to state health statistical reports.

Three weeks ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida as part of his push to resuscitate the economy.

The rise comes as Florida prepares to open its polls Monday for early voting ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Saturday’s new report pushed the seven-day average to more than 3,300 cases, although trying to gather statistical trends has been hampered recently because of reporting anomalies.

On two occasions in recent months, one-day totals exceeded Saturday’s surge but were statistical outliers. In one case, data being reported included numbers that should have been previously reported — as was also the case in early September when a testing company dumped data that dated as far back as April.

Setting aside those recent reporting anomalies, Saturday’s number was the highest since Aug. 22, when the state reported more than 4,300 new cases.

The latest numbers also show a slight uptick in the infection rate — at 5.2% — but the Florida Department of Health noted that it was the 65th consecutive day that the positivity rate remained below 10%.

In its report Saturday, the department said more than 2,000 people were in the hospital primarily because of COVID-19 infections.

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Annual stone crab claw harvest begins in Florida

MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s annual stone crab claw harvest has started amid new rules aimed at protecting future stocks and concerns about demand for claws due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New regulations, enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, include increasing the minimum size of a harvested claw from 2 3/4 inches (7 centimeters) to 2 7/8 inches (7.3 centimeters); reducing the harvest season by two weeks and modifying traps to have a 2 3/16-inch (5.5-centimeter) escape ring. The season started Thursday and ends May 1.

Trap modifications must be completed by the 2023-2024 season, but Gary Graves, vice president of Keys Fisheries, one of the state’s largest processors of the tasty claws, said many commercial fishermen’s traps in the Florida Keys are already compliant.

He said commercial fishermen around the state worked with FWC officials to institute the new rules to ensure future harvests.

“We’re in favor of this (new regulations) to rebuild the fishery,” Graves said, adding that about 2.1 million pounds of claws were harvested last year around Florida. “Probably in four or five years, we’ll be able to start catching three or three-and-a-half million pounds (annually) like we used to.”

Graves said the COVID-19 pandemic has fishermen on edge because most commercially harvested claws are sold to restaurants across Florida.

“Retail, I think, is strong,” Graves said. “We see a lot of people ordering (seafood) online or going to the grocery store and buying and eating at home.

“But we just don’t know what restaurants are going to do this year in Florida, which are the largest consumers of the crab,” he said.

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