TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida reported 93 more deaths from COVID-19 on Friday as the pandemic continues to spread. The state's total confirmed caseload grew by another 11,433 people infected.
The rate of Florida deaths per day has reached a seven-day average of about 59, up from about 33 three weeks ago, and approaching the deadliest period in the pandemic in early May when that average briefly touched 60.
The cumulative number of deaths in Florida was 4,102 on Friday, and the number of confirmed cases of the virus climbed to 240,710. The state also reported a record daily high of 435 newly hospitalized people who were positive for the virus, though that partly reflects expanded routine testing for inpatients and includes those seeking hospital care for other reasons.
Florida added a new column to a dashboard with hospitalization statistics Friday to include a page with a county-by-county breakdown for patients being treated primarily for coronavirus. Statewide, there were 6,806 such COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
The figure doesn’t include patients admitted for other reasons who test positive while hospitalized.
Coronavirus hospitalizations were highest in Miami-Dade County, with 1,388, followed by Broward County with 969 and Palm Beach County with 606. Orange County, home to Disney World and other theme parks, had 478 virus hospitalizations and Duval County, where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place next month, had 439.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday at a news conference in Orlando that the coronavirus also had spiked infections throughout the country’s Sunbelt, from California to South Carolina.
When he made the decision to reopen much of the state in May, he said, COVID-19 infections “had very, very low prevalence,” especially in the northern parts of the state.
“There was no justification to not move forward,” the Republican governor said, adding that hospitals across the state have between 10,000 and 13,000 available beds amid reports that some hospitals are near capacity.
“We have a situation where you got a lot of beds available. No major system, nobody that we’ve seen yet, has even gone to the surge level,” he said.
A doctor's group gathered outside his mansion in Tallahassee on Friday morning to urge him to issue an order mandating the use of face masks statewide.
Physicians for Social Responsibility said it had gathered more than 1,000 signatures from physicians across Florida calling for the mandatory use of masks in public places as an important step in controlling the spread of the virus. In most of the state's heavily populated areas, local mask orders are already in place.
“The governor will have to own up and take personal responsibility for these sick and dead Floridians,” said Dr. Ron Saff, a Tallahassee allergist and a board member of the group, which urged the public to phone and email the governor.
DeSantis has thus far resisted those calls, arguing that local governments must decide for themselves if stricter levels of protection are needed. Florida's most heavily populated municipalities mostly have done so already.
“One size does not fit all in Florida,” said his spokeswoman, Helen Ferre, who also cast doubt on the effectiveness of mandates, noting that the Miami area has had face-mask rules in place since April, yet the area continues to be a COVID-19 hot spot.
Those on the frontlines of health care see things differently.
"People don’t want to wear their mask, and as a health care worker it’s frustrating,” said Esther Segura, a nurse at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami. “Spend a day in the shoes of a nurse that’s in ICU ... and see what they’re seeing and then you would have a different perspective.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested Thursday that Florida might have opened up too quickly.
“Despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly,” Fauci said on FiveThirtyEight’s weekly “PODCAST-19.”
“Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints,” he said.
Ferrer, the governor's spokeswoman, said Fauci's comments are “so far removed from the needs and day-to-day reality of a Florida resident.”
She added: "The impact of closing businesses and impeding all public interactions affects communities at their core. These are important checkpoints Dr. Fauci should not overlook when assessing Florida’s situation. ”
AP writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report. Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.