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Easing of restrictions brings fewer claims, more outbreaks in Florida

Coronavirus causes chaos in Sunshine State

In this May 21, 2020 photo, a sign on a business in Tenino, Wash., says they are closed due to the coronavirus and state stay-at-home restrictions. In an effort to help residents and local merchants alike get through the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the small town has issued wooden currency for residents to spend at local businesses, decades after it created a similar program during the Great Depression. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this May 21, 2020 photo, a sign on a business in Tenino, Wash., says they are closed due to the coronavirus and state stay-at-home restrictions. In an effort to help residents and local merchants alike get through the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the small town has issued wooden currency for residents to spend at local businesses, decades after it created a similar program during the Great Depression. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida's confirmed coronavirus cases shot up again Thursday, setting another one-day record of more than 3,200 new infections, the fifth time in eight days a new mark has been set. At least three local governments Thursday imposed rules requiring masks in public settings.

The increases have come as the state's economy reopens from a partial shutdown that began in March when the pandemic spread across the nation. Federal officials announced Thursday that 86,000 Floridians applied for new jobless benefits last week, the lowest number since the shutdown began. It's a drop of almost 30% from the previous week and 80% since 500,000 claims were filed in mid-April.

Dr. Scott Brady, a senior vice president of AdventHealth Ambulatory Systems, a Florida-based hospital chain, said that with the economy restarting, many Floridians have stopped wearing masks and practicing social distancing when in crowded, face-to-face situations, leading to the increased spread. According to the state health department, the seven-day average for positive tests is now 7.4%, almost double what it was two weeks ago and triple the average in late May.

Brady said Florida’s hospitals are fortunately much better prepared and equipped to treat those seriously ill with COVID-19 than they were in March.

“What we’re seeing is the folks who are coming in with COVID aren’t quite as sick as they were a couple of months ago,” Brady said.

The Florida Department of Health on Thursday reported 85,926 coronavirus cases statewide, a daily jump of 3,207 cases. The previous record — 2,783 cases — occurred Tuesday. Before last week, the daily record had been 1,601 set in mid-May.

The state has had at least 3,061 COVID-related deaths and is averaging about 30 per day the past week, about half the rate of early May. Gov. Ron DeSantis has cited this lower-death rate as part of his contention that the increased daily infections are caused in part by testing more young adults, who are less likely to become seriously ill or die if they catch the virus.

The state's death rate for people under 35 who are confirmed with the virus is about 1 per 1,330 infections. For those 65 and older, the state's rate is about 1 per 7 confirmed infections.

Early in the national outbreak, DeSantis, a Republican, ordered that travelers arriving in Florida from then-hard-hit New York City and its suburbs quarantine themselves for two weeks, giving them a lot of the blame for spreading the disease in his state. But New York's statewide daily infection-rate has dropped by 90% since late April and is now about one-fifth Florida's even though the states have similar populations.

New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a veiled shot at DeSantis on Thursday, saying he might order Floridians into quarantine if they travel north.

“I’m considering it,” Cuomo said, “You want to talk about a full 180.”

DeSantis' press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The state only recommends that face masks be worn in public — and DeSantis sometimes does not — some local governments Thursday started mandating them.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced Thursday that she was ordering a mandatory mask policy for the city of Tampa. Jerry Demings, the mayor of Orange County, which includes Orlando, issued a similar order that goes into effect on Saturday.

In the Florida Keys, Monroe County commissioners voted Thursday to make facial coverings mandatory, effective immediately. All employees and customers in businesses and other public places where there is a roof overhead must now wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, according to the new ordinance. Patrons in restaurants and bars are permitted to remove their masks to eat and drink.

Commissioners also recommended that anyone age 6 and older should carry a mask when they leave home and wear it “whenever they come within six feet of another person.” Violation of the mask requirement is punishable by fines, but not jail time, the commission said in a news release.

The Florida Keys reopened to visitors at the beginning of the month after being closed to nonresidents starting in mid-March in order to stop the virus's spread.

Just north in Miami, 30 healthcare workers at a Veterans Administration hospital tested positive for the virus. In Orlando, seven firefighters tested positive for the virus, forcing a total of 64 firefighters to self-quarantine out of exposure concerns.

In St. Petersburg, where the coronavirus infections are spiking, Dr. Larry Feinman, the chief medical officer for HCA Health Care West Florida Division, implored Pinellas County Commissioners on Thursday to enact an ordinance requiring people to wear face masks in public. He said during a recent visit to the grocery store, two-thirds of shoppers were unmasked.

“I have no qualms walking through our COVID units,” he said he told the commissioners. “I’m more afraid to go into Publix.”

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Lush reported from St. Petersburg. Spencer reported from Fort Laurderdale. Reporter Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.