As Florida continues along its path to a full reopening under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ phased plan, an increase on new COVID-19 cases continues to be reported.
And as reported coronavirus cases remain high, so do the number of Americans who remain without work due to the pandemic.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported about 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many Americans are still losing their jobs even as the economy appears to be slowly recovering with more businesses partially reopening.
According to the AP, though the unemployment rate unexpectedly declined from 14.7%, it is still a high 13.3%. And even with the May hiring gain, just one in nine jobs that were lost in March and April have returned. Nearly 21 million people are officially classified as unemployed.
These latest figures show that nearly 44 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past 12 weeks.
The newest numbers from the Labor Department marked the 10th straight weekly decline in applications for jobless aid since they peaked in mid-March when the coronavirus hit hard. Still, the pace of layoffs remains historically high.
Nearly 110,520 new claims for unemployment assistance were filed by Floridians with the Department of Economic Opportunity.
The DEO’s unemployment dashboard, most recently updated as of Tuesday, showed the state has received more than 2.2 milion unique claims for benefits, and shows that the department has paid nearly $5 billion to claimants. However, many Floridians have still not received any payment from the DEO as the website continues to experience backups and system lags.
However, some workers are returning to work in Central Florida, including at SeaWorld Orlando, where employees flocked back to the theme park as it reopened to guests Thursday.
The company shut down its parks in mid-March due to the dangers of COVID-19 and furloughed hundreds of employees.
Just like other Central Florida attractions, there are social distancing markings on the ground and hand sanitizer stations throughout the park for guests.
As for the rides, employees said riders will sit in every other row and workers will be constantly wiping down the seats, among other health and safety precautions.
As guests return to theme parks, new cases of COVID-19 remain on the rise.
As of Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported 1,698 new cases of coronavirus since approximately the same time the day before, as well as 47 newly reported deaths.
Thursday saw the largest increase in reported coronavirus cases on record in Florida; June 4 previously held the record for the largest increase in cases standing at 1,419 newly reported infections.
The new numbers bring the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in the state since the disease was first detected in Florida on March 1 to 69,069, with a total of 2,848 deaths related to the respiratory illness.
U.S. health officials are urging people to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible to prevent spreading the virus. Washing your hands and social distancing is still the best way to avoid infection, health officials say.
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Since March, 11,571 people in Florida have required hospitalization due to the coronavirus. Florida reported 226 new hospitalizations Thursday. The state doesn’t report current hospitalizations, only the overall total since the virus first arrived in the Sunshine State.
Here’s a breakdown of cases in Central Florida by county:
Seminole County leaders met Thursday to discuss updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and shared that the county has seen a large increase in newly reported cases of the contagious respiratory illness along with the rest of the state.
Alan Harris, Seminole County Emergency Manager, said the county has seen a pronounced uptick in COVID-19 cases; he also said it was important to note that the increase in cases was not due to increased testing. In fact, testing numbers have dropped because the demand has also dropped.
Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty also spoke during the news conference and implored residents to be respectful and smart by continuing to wear face masks, saying that the COVID-19 virus is an opportunistic predator.
“This is a big deal. And it’s getting worse. We were so close to zero. Close. And then we started opening up, which we should,” Husty said.
Florida Department of Health in Seminole Health Officer Donna Walsh echoed those concerns, saying that it takes a community effort to prevent more cases and deaths.
"The virus is still in our community, it still can be spread from person to person and people who have underlying health conditions and who are elderly certainly can suffer complications and even die from this virus,” Walsh said. “The message has not changed. We just need to continue to take those precautions and protect each other.”
While the latest spike in new COVID-19 cases came after most of the state entered phase two of reopening, cases often take about two weeks to report due to the incubation period of COVID-19.
It remains unclear as to when the state may enter phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan, or what the specifics of that phase my look like, but News 6 broke down what you might expect to see.
“Phase 3 will begin after the successful conclusion of Phase 2, which includes a downward trajectory of the syndromic and epidemiology criteria while maintaining adequate health care capacity. This will occur when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence of COVID-19 cases and satisfies the benchmarks outlined in this Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. plan,” a document by DeSantis read.
For more on what phase three may look like, click here.