Florida COVID-19 crisis: What went wrong and what is the current situation?
If Florida were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for the most new cases in a day behind the United States, Brazil and India, said reports citing data.
The US state of Florida is witnessing mounting number of COVID-19 cases with many people still refusing to wear masks amid easing of lockdown restrictions. It recorded more than 15,000 new coronavirus infections on Sunday -- the highest single-day increase any state has experienced during the pandemic.
According to Florida’s Department of Health, the total number of COVID-19 positive cases stands at 269,811, while the state also reported 45 new deaths, for a total of 4,242 fatalities. Florida, with just 7% of the US population, surpassed the previous daily record held by California. The former began lifting coronavirus restrictions in May which has proved vulnerable due to tourism and an elderly population.
Florida’s daily increases in cases have already surpassed the highest daily tally reported by any European country during the height of the pandemic there. It has also broken New York state’s record of 12,847 new cases on April 10 when it was the epicentre of the US outbreak.
If Florida were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for the most new cases in a day behind the United States, Brazil and India, according to a Reuters analysis.
As of Monday morning, there were more than 3.3 million total confirmed coronavirus cases across the US and 135,203 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University’s tally. Florida began reopening its economy in May and June, with a few restrictions, and a surge in cases began near the end of June.
The latest rise in Florida was reported after Walt Disney World in Orlando reopened with a limited number of guests who were welcomed with a host of safety measures, including masks and temperature checks.
Anti-mask activists in several states, including Florida and Michigan, organized protests against local mandates, arguing that the measures infringe upon individual freedom. Coronavirus infections are rising in about 40 states, according to a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.
Nationally, the United States has broken global records by registering about 60,000 new cases a day for the last four days in a row, reports say. Hospitalizations and positive test rates are also rising in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
Florida reported a record amount of testing, with nearly 143,000 results announced on Sunday compared with an average of 68,000 for the prior seven days. University of Florida epidemiologist Dr Cindy Prins said: "I still think we need to increase our testing a little bit more." The state and local health departments should ramp up their contact tracing, she added.
Prins, according to the Associated Press, said that she’s still concerned about large crowds, gyms and restaurants as places of mass transmission. Reports of illegal clubs and raves inouth Florida are also a worry. “I really do think we could control this, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we’re in a crisis, and we’re definitely not doing it,” she said.
“I know people want to live their lives. There have been a lot of other times, people have made those sacrifices in order to benefit our society. It’s almost like a war effort. That’s what we need right now.”
MANY AMERICANS REFUSE TO WEAR MASKS
Health officials have pleaded with the public to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus, but the issue has become politically divisive in the United States unlike many other countries that have seen far lower rates of infection and death.
Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, US President Trump wore a mask for the first time in public when he visited a Washington DC-area military medical centre on Saturday. He had previously refused to wear a mask in public or ask Americans to wear face coverings, saying it was a personal choice.
Many Americans still refuse to wear a mask, which health experts say help stop transmission of the virus. Anti-mask activists organized a protest on Saturday at a grilled cheese restaurant and bar in Windermere, Florida, which is in Orange County about 19 km from Walt Disney World.
The restaurant, 33 & Melt, has become a focal point of tension after owner Carrie Hudson said she was not requiring customers to wear masks. County officials have mandated the use of masks in public since June 20.
During Saturday’s protest, no customers wore face coverings inside the restaurant. Agents from the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco arrived during the rally and served Hudson with a warning, according to a video.
“This is a virus that is very well contained,” said one of the demonstrators, anti-mask activist Tara Hill. “Everyone is responsible for their own health care decisions ... We want our choices respected as well.”
In addition to a record 15,000 new cases on Sunday, more than four dozen hospitals in Florida reported that their intensive care units are full due to a surge in COVID-19 patients.
The caseload in Florida has continued to rise despite Republican Governor Ron DeSantis ordering some bars to close again last month. But the governor, has reportedly not yet issued a mask mandate like other states enduring surges.
About reopening schools, DeSantis said that even with the rising rates, he still wants schools to reopen as scheduled next month, saying children have not proven to be vectors for the disease in states and countries where campuses are open.
He said while each county will have to come up with procedures, depending on their local infection rate, keeping schools closed would exacerbate the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students. “We know there are huge, huge costs for not providing the availability of in-person schooling,” he said. “The risk of corona, fortunately, for students is incredibly low.”
The top adviser on the White House coronavirus taskforce, Dr Anthony Fauci, had criticised lockdown easing in the state, saying the data on infections did not support the move.