Florida hits new coronavirus death mark with 156 in one day
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida reached another ominous mark Thursday with a record 156 deaths from the coronavirus reported in a single day as the state continues to experience a swift rise in cases. Officials in the hard-hit Miami area, meanwhile, were weighing another blanket lockdown.
The state Department of Health reported 13,965 new coronavirus cases in Florida, bringing the total throughout the pandemic in Florida to nearly 316,000.
In Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous and the current epicenter of the outbreak, there were more than 3,100 new coronavirus cases reported.
The 156 deaths statewide eclipsed the previous record set Tuesday of 132 reported deaths. On a seven-day average, Florida was at about 96 deaths per day on Thursday — well above previous months.
Hospitalizations also have been surging, filling up ICU units at several hospitals. Statewide, the number of patients being treated in a hospital for the coronavirus was at 8,809 Thursday morning, up from 8,276 at the same time the day before.
Dr. Steven Merta, Chief Medical Officer of Memorial Hospital in Tampa, said his facility is not at capacity yet. But he is bracing for a surge of patients in the coming weeks.
“I don’t really see a lot of behavioral change,” Merta said. “When you’re in health care and you understand virology and the safety precautions, and then see individuals choosing not to abide by these guidelines, it’s concerning. I wish we could get more people to understand, and not have this cavalier attitude about masks and social distancing.”
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the situation there has become so dire that he is considering another stay-at-home order and business shutdown. Suarez said at a news conference Thursday he would meet with business leaders before making a decision, possibly Friday.
“It’s important for us to understand the reality of the situation we’re in and the gravity of the decisions in front of us,” Suarez said on Twitter. “We know how impactful a stay at home order could be and we’re doing everything we can to avoid it but this is a public health crisis and lives are at stake.”
Thursday’s number of coronavirus deaths pushes the total for Florida during the pandemic to 4,766, the health department reported.
Florida’s largest grocery chain, Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc., announced it will require all customers to wear masks at its stores beginning Tuesday, which follows the same mandates as many other large retailers. The requirement won’t apply to young children and people with medical conditions who cannot wear face coverings, said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous in a statement Thursday.
Given the advice on masks from health officials, Brous said, “we believe requiring face coverings in our stores is another way we can do our part to help protect our communities.”
Publix operates more than 1,200 stores in seven states, more than 800 of them in Florida.
Also Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis and first lady Casey DeSantis held a roundtable discussion in Tampa on the impact of the coronavirus on mental health.
The Republican governor said the stress of the illness will affect people even if they didn’t catch the disease or know anyone who did and whether they are children whose schooling, socializing and activities have been disrupted or adults who’ve taken an economic hit.
“Many have had no personal impact at all in terms the actual illness, but who have been profoundly impacted with the changes that have occurred in society. You’re worried about a paycheck, you’re worried about kids, you’re worried about family members,” DeSantis said. “I understand that, and that is something we’re going to continue to put a lot of attention on as well.”
Meanwhile, Florida’s jobless claims last week nearly doubled to more than 129,000 new applicants compared to the prior week, according to federal figures released Thursday.
The jump came after state officials placed restrictions on the onsite consumption of alcohol in Florida bars in response to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
“Everything that has been happening in the economy in this cycle has been driven by public health measures,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.
Unemployed Floridians have filed more than 2.8 million unique jobless claims since mid-March, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
As of Wednesday, more than 1.7 million Floridians have been paid more than $10 billion in unemployment claims.
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando, Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this story.
This story has been updated to correct the seven-day average of reported deaths Thursday. It was about 96, not more than 100.