A day after Florida netted the highest positive cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived in the state on March 1, doctors in Southwest Florida pleaded with the public to wear face masks and avoid large gatherings.
However, while those experts were at the same news conference as Gov. Ron DeSantis, he said he does not plan to issue a mask mandate. On Friday, Florida reported nearly 9,000 new positive cases of the coronavirus with a 13% positivity rate compared to the number of tests.
“We started to see a little bit of an increase in the positivity that second week of June. Some of that was driven by some hotspots around the state, but then some of it was driven, particularly in the last two weeks, by a lot of community transmission particularly from the younger demographic,” DeSantis said. “So, that case, positivity particularly in the last week, has trended up. It started creeping up the second week of June, but then the last two weeks has gone up.”
DeSantis and medical experts with Lee Health in Fort Myers spoke Friday about the rate of positive cases and what needs to be done to slow the spread. The recent cases in Florida have trended younger, the median age in Florida dropped from above 65 to 39 in the past few weeks.
“Really the probably the most significant change we’ve seen is a radical change in the median age of people who were testing positive,” DeSantis said. “When we started at the beginning of March, really starting to test, the median age was in the 60s, you know half the tests positive were people 60 or over, started going throughout most of April and in May, usually in the low to mid-50s, and then really in the last two to three weeks, you’ve seen a dramatic decline first, then went to like 38,37. Now it consistently is 33, 34, 35.”
Lee Health President Dr. Lawrence Antonucci said the hospital has seen an increase in cases where patients were both hospitalized and not.
“Our testing or positive test rate is in about 13% across the board since we began but in the last week or so it’s been over 20%, and the demographic is definitely shifting to a younger demographic,” Antonucci said.
All the Lee Health doctors on the panel with DeSantis said people need to be wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.
“I think we’re getting complacent as I go around the community I see a lot of people not wearing masks,” Antonucci said.
Wearing even a homemade cloth mask can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it, according to the Mayo Clinic. A surgical mask or medical mask protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs.
The hospital president and CEO stressed that even though someone might be “25 and feel that you’re bulletproof,” others may not be.
“That’s my message to the public today is please wear a mask when you’re in a crowded area. Practice social distancing, good hand hygiene, all the things we’ve been talking about for four months now,” Antonucci said.
Infectious Disease Dr. Stephan Stovall encouraged younger individuals to consider the people around them with health conditions they might be putting at risk.
“We can be a risk to those people around us and so we’re asking for responsible actions, we want you to live your life, not in fear. This is a new normal that we’ve all had to get used to,” Stovall said. “So we don’t want you to be fearful. But we do want you to take those, those things that we know will help lessen disease and flatten the curve.”
Officials with Lee Health have been trying to inform the community as to why it’s important to wear a mask.
“If you’re not wearing a mask. Tell us why we want to know why you’re not because for us it’s about really putting resources towards education to the public to let him know why it is important and how we can make a difference,” Antonucci said. “This increase right now we can flatten it again just like we did it before, but it’s going to take effort, it’s going to take the community to rally around this effort.”
When asked why he wouldn’t implement a mask mandate DeSantis said he didn’t think medical experts were recommending a mandate.
“We will continue to put out the guidance and we’re gonna trust people to make good decisions,” DeSantis said.
Local leaders around Florida, including Orange and Osceola counties, have issued mandatory mask mandates.
Since March 1, 122,960 people in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, including 3,366 people who have died as a result of the virus.