MIAMI – Florida’s health officials say the number of COVID-19 deaths jumped significantly from 600, reported in the previous week, to more than 1,000 reported this week.
The new deaths tallied by the Florida Department of Health raise the total coronavirus death toll to 40,766. Last summer, the state reported seven-day averages of about 185 deaths per day, whereas the average on Friday stood at 153. But the state continues to lead the country in rate of hospitalizations.
Florida has about 89 adult patients with COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Hospitalizations rose slightly on Friday from 15,358 to 15,441 patients, including about 3,200 patients who are in intensive care units. In its weekly report, the state averages 21,680 new cases per day in the past seven days, continuing to reach all-time highs like it has in the past two weeks.
In Broward County, officials said the hospital beds for adult ICU patients was reaching capacity while their pediatric ICU beds were at 100% capacity. Many of Florida's hospitals can convert spaces like conference rooms and ambulatory centers into COVID units.
Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said hospitals were using other spaces such as cafeterias.
“Between increasing numbers of COVID patients and unusually high patient volume of extremely ill non-COVID patients, our hospitals are working to maximize their available staff and beds," Mayhew said in a statement.
Some officials worry the surge of cases fueled by the delta variant is happening as children return to school for the fall semester, most without a mandatory mask policy. Various school districts have already reported cases among students and staff, and although they were likely infected before classes resume, officials have placed some under a COVID-19 quarantine.
In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine. As of Friday afternoon, the school district had reported 134 cases, of which 108 were students and 26 employees.
In Broward County, where classes have not started, two elementary school teachers and a teacher assistant, all in their late 40s, died from COVID-19 in a 24-hour span earlier this week, the teacher’s union said in an emailed statement. The three were unvaccinated.
Union president Anna Fusco had previously told WFOR-TV in Miami on Thursday that it was four teachers, but the union later said the fourth death was a Broward County Public Schools graduate with close ties to the school district through her job.
School superintendents have pleaded with Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow them to adopt clear mask requirements, to follow guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending masks be worn indoors at schools nationwide.
The Republican governor has issued orders to block school mask mandates, dictating school districts should allow parents to opt out if they don't want their children to wear masks in classrooms. A Florida judge gave DeSantis until Monday to defend his attempts to block mandatory school mask policies against a lawsuit by parents of several school districts.
The state announced on Friday plans to drop the lawsuit entirely.
“We believe the complaint exhibits some significant deficiencies as a threshold matter that we believe will result in dismissal of the case,” said Michael Abel, an attorney representing the state.
The lawsuit was filed by 27 parents across Florida who want to block Desantis’ executive order that currently prevents schools from requiring MASKS.
“We’re frustrated and we’re terrified and we’re furious and we’re not going to take this sitting down,” said Judi Hayes, an Orange County mother who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Hayes said DeSantis is overreaching his powers.
“We will fight him to the ends of the Earth if we have to,” she said.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ordered the state to file a motion to dismiss a complaint that argues the governor's orders and ensuing rules are violating the state constitution by not offering a safe education as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rising since July.
The lawsuit also says the state constitution grants power solely to local school boards to operate, control, and supervise classes within their districts. The parents maintain that while it may be safe to operate schools in some areas of the state without masks, it is not safe to do so in “crisis" areas of Florida, which includes Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The parents who brought the lawsuit are from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Alachua, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to vindicate the rights of parents,” DeSantis said.
The state must file to dismiss on Monday, then lawyers for the parents must respond by Tuesday.
The judge will decide Thursday if this lawsuit will stand.
From there, a three-day hearing for this lawsuit is set to begin August 23.
Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale.
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic