BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard awoke to grim news on Tuesday: The number of coronavirus fatalities in the county had jumped by 20, from 65 to 85, a one-day record. But while deaths have risen substantially in the month of July, it is not the case that 20 people died overnight, health officials told News 6 partner Florida Today.
"The deaths that were reported today are not a single one-day number," wrote Anita Stremmel, Assistant Director for the Florida Department of Health in Brevard, in an email to FLORIDA TODAY. "These individuals may have died several days ago."
A line list of deaths published daily by the Department of Health indicates which cases were newly reported on that day. While a date of death is not indicated, a column showing when the cases were confirmed as a coronavirus case is marked. For the 20 deaths recorded on Tuesday, the dates range from July 2 to July 27.
"The Department of Health continues to work to ensure that COVID-19 case data is reported expeditiously as soon as it becomes available," Stremmel added.
Some 68 deaths were reported so far in July. On Monday, Brevard passed 5,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
The previous record for single-day deaths here was six, which occurred July 9 and 15.
Craig Engelson, a chief investigator for the Brevard Medical Examiner, said it would be an overwhelming workload for his office to receive 20 deaths in a day, but that for the past several weeks the number of daily deaths has been higher than before Florida’s current surge, which began in June.
“If I were to give a rough estimate of deaths, the last couple weeks have been about five per day,” Engelson said.
He said these are generally in the 60- to 90-year-old age bracket. "We're not getting 20-year-olds, thank God."
“Before this spike we were doing fantastic,” he said, adding his office typically sees no more than a couple of cases each week.
Though both the Department of Health and district medical examiners tally coronavirus deaths, the DOH registers deaths based on a person's place of residency while medical examiners go by where they died.
Engelson noted that a fraction of cases his office handled may be Indian River County residents who ended up in Brevard's hospital system, but that all cases were cross-checked against the DOH's local tally for accuracy.
Florida as a whole also set a new, single-day record Tuesday with 186 deaths from COVID-19 solidifying its position at the epicenter of the national pandemic.
The Sunshine state now tops the earlier hotspot New York for cases and ranks second in cases to California, which has 18 million more people than the Sunshine State.
Florida health officials Tuesday reported 9,240 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 441,977. The death toll climbed to 6,117 since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
On 10 days this month, the state has logged more than 100 deaths from the virus.
Brevard County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober on Tuesday reacted to the news of Tuesday's local death record with criticism for those who dismissed efforts to implement mask-wearing mandates.
Wearing masks has been widely championed by public health experts and medical professionals as a simple way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.
Lober has unsuccessfully pushed for commissioners to implement mask policies at local businesses in the county.
"Legend has it that Roman emperor Nero fiddled as Rome burned," Lober said. "As the number of preventable deaths needlessly continues to rise, I cannot help but picture a number of local elected officials with fiddles in their hands. Some have enough practice to be virtuosos."
With no countywide mask requirements, a number of Brevard’s cities and towns have implemented their own mask mandates this month, including Cocoa Beach, Indialantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Melbourne Beach, Palm Shores, Satellite Beach and West Melbourne. Some major retailers like CVS, Publix, Target and Walmart are also instituting mask policies for their stores.
The flood of mandates has created a patchwork of rules from community to community, and even from store to store.
Just last week in Brevard County, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated that he would not consider a statewide mandate for masks.
"If you look at what we're seeing on the ground in places like Brevard County, I think that we're seeing some positive momentum," he said five days ago at a news conference at Health First's Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
“I do think we are going to head in a better direction here shortly.”
News 6 partner Florida Today reported on this story