ORLANDO, Fla. – As Gov. Ron DeSantis works on a plan to reopen Florida’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s death toll topped 900 on Wednesday during the second deadliest day for Florida, according to the latest numbers.
Florida is under a stay-at-home executive order until April 30, meaning non-essential businesses could reopen but the governor has not set a date for when that will happen yet. For small business owners and furloughed employees impacted by closures, that date can’t come quickly enough.
As of Wednesday night, there have been 28,576 positive cases of the novel coronavirus since March 1 in Florida, according to the DOH dashboard which is updated twice daily. Since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the Sunshine State, 927 people have died due to the virus, 60 new fatalities were reported alone on Wednesday, the second deadliest day for the state since April 2.
More than 4,450 people statewide with more severe cases of the virus have required hospitalization, according to the state database. Although exact figures haven’t been released of how many of those patients have since recovered, DeSantis said Tuesday that “slightly more than 2,000” people are currently hospitalized.
[TIMELINE: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]
Below is the Florida dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases. If you are having trouble viewing on mobile, click here.
DeSantis declared Tuesday evening that Florida has flattened the curve -- dropping the number of new cases and deaths-- saying models predicting hundreds of coronavirus deaths a day in Florida were wrong. The most widely-sited models from the University of Washington indicate Florida may have surpassed the peak on April 2 when the state experienced the deadliest day yet with 77 fatalities. These models, similar to hurricane forecasting, are ever changing based on new data.
“Those predictions have been false. Our work is succeeding. We have flattened the curve,” DeSantis said.
Here’s what the numbers show: As state and local officials are declaring success through social distancing and expanding testing, state numbers do show a decrease in new cases since last week. By this time last week, Florida coronavirus cases were growing by more than 1,000 a day. For the past three days, new numbers have stayed under 800 new cases per day but on Tuesday the state confirmed 943 new cases.
One week ago on April 15, about 10.5% of Florida coronavirus tests were coming back positive. Now that number has dropped slightly to 9.6%. More than 290,000 people in Florida have been tested for COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said numbers have plateaued because as health officials administer around the same amount of tests daily, that number should stabilize.
At the current estimated peak, on April 2 and 3, Florida saw increases surpassing 1,300 new cases for both days.
[INTERACTIVE MAP: Here’s where to get your drive-thru coronavirus test]
It’s important to note new case numbers have fluctuated widely from day-to-day as new large-scale testing sites open or expand the number of tests administered.
In Central Florida, coastal counties in Brevard, Volusia and Flagler announced plans to lift some restrictions on beach access. Flagler County, the area with the lowest number of coronavirus cases in the region, will reopen beaches Wednesday for limited activities and hours.
Here’s a breakdown of local cases by county:
The governor’s re-open Florida task force is working to determine what policies and changes need to be in place before restaurants, hotels and tourism-related spots welcome guests again. Dozens of business executives will continue to meet via conference call with the governor throughout the week to continue these discussions.
A similar task force in Orange County led by Mayor Jerry Demings began meeting Wednesday morning to discuss how to safely reopen the county.
Task force member Unicorp National Developments CEO Chuck Whittall said he’s hearing from tenants they want a date to look forward to as many “are weeks from completely going broke.” Unicorp is a Central Florida-based property development giant managing hundreds of properties from apartments to shopping centers.
“Tenants are on the verge of going broke. All of them. Can’t pay power bills, phone bills, water bills, forget rent,” Whittall said. “They want to know when they can open, if I’m a small restaurant, what is the date I can open with this social distancing? If I’m a bar, hair salons, when can they open if they can respect 6 feet?”
Demings said county leaders are looking to state and federal officials for guidance when to reopen.
“Reopening should occur at a pace that continues to protect your employees, business owners, consumers from the virus itself," Demings said. “The work of this task force is to make the types of informed decisions by which to make recommendations about when businesses can reopen.”
Tourism, the state’s No. 1 industry, has crashed since mid-March when the state’s theme parks and other attractions began closing. Hotels have seen a drop in revenue of almost $2 billion over the past six weeks compared to last year. Domestic air travel to the state is down 65% and international air travel is down 80%.
Florida is lagging behind other states distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Floridians impacted by coronavirus-related layoffs and furloughs. According to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data, nearly seven of every eight Floridians who managed to file claims during the three weeks from mid-March until early April were waiting to have them processed — the worst rate in the country.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity faces a large backlog of unemployment benefit claims that must still be processed and paid, records posted on the agency’s website show. According to the DEO, about 15.9% of more than 674,000 verified claims have been paid as of Wednesday afternoon totaling more than $143 million.
What you need to know about COVID-19
More than 2.5 million people worldwide have been infected by the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, including more than 179,000 deaths. More than 45,000 of fatal cases are in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
One of the best ways to prevent spread of the virus is washing your hands with soap and water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails before rinsing off.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.