After stops in Fort Myers and Orlando last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his tour of Florida medical centers on Sunday, with a stop at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.
As of Sunday, there were 8,530 new positive cases reported with 29 fatalities, according to the Florida Department of Health. Florida broke its single-day record for COVID-19 cases again Saturday with 9,585 cases in 24 hours. That brings the overall total of 141,000 cases and 3,419 fatalities.
“While the number of cases is something that you look at, what we’ve always looked at is the positivity rate of those cases,” said DeSantis. “For every case that’s detected through a positive test, there are probably 10 other infections out there.”
Locally, Escambia County recorded 49 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, growing the total to 1,660. Santa Rosa County’s 26 new cases Sunday put its total to 468. The numbers, says the governor, reflect a substantial increase in testing.
“[It] really jumped here in the last week to 10 days, which is a good thing; when you do that you’re going to find more cases because the detected cases are just a small fraction of the total amount of infections,” said the governor. “We have seen the positivity rate increase from the May standby of 4-5 percent, and now 12 percent.”
New COVID-19 cases in Florida are emerging among the younger population, prompting DeSantis to confirm last week that the median age for positive coronavirus cases dropped from 65 to 35 years old.
“So it’s been a real significant shift in terms of who’s testing, who’s testing positive, and who’s testing positive at the higher rates,” said DeSantis. “But I think it’s something that can be dealt with by just taking some basic precautions. And I think you’ll see that in Northwest Florida as well.”
DeSantis said the action of reclosing bars around Florida was brought upon themselves, because too many establishments ignored the guidelines in the Phase-1 reopening. He’s also blaming social interaction among young people for helping drive the surge.
“For those entities, unfortunately, there was just widespread non-compliance; you had so many examples where those guidelines were just tossed aside,” the governor said. “And in the instances where we’ve seen outbreaks tied to establishments like that, it has invariably been because they packed so many people in and created the type of environment that we’re trying to avoid.”
“Our overall positivity rates where the mobile testing site has been approaching 20 percent; younger individuals as opposed to the elderly individuals that we saw in March,” said Dr. Pete Jennings, Sacred Heart’s Chief Medical Officer. “Those elderly individuals frequently had heart issues, lung issues, et cetera. It really complicated their overall disease severity where they ended up in the [intensive care unit]. We’re not having nearly the ICU rates that we had in the past.”
“One common misconception about COVID-19 is the notion that the virus only affects older populations, or that it’s only older people who are at risk of dying,” said Dr. Jason Folond, Pediatrician-in-Chief at Studer Family Children’s Hospital.
Like all viruses, the coronavirus is constantly mutating. Folond says the strain of COVID-19 now spreading throughout communities is the less aggressive type.
“People in the beginning who were getting sick and dying weren’t spreading the virus; and on top of that, elderly populations were isolating themselves,” Folond said. “So we’re seeing maybe a less virulent or less strong virus spread through the community, and a population that doesn’t have a lot of symptoms such as the 18-to-30-year-olds.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis at Sacred Heart urged Floridians to wear masks in public when social distancing is impossible, but he did not call for mandatory use statewide. On Friday, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson made that call within the city limits.
“Each business must post signage notifying individuals of the requirement to wear face coverings as required by the order,” the mayor said. “There are several examples [of signs] we have for you – ‘No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service;’ any different types of ones that would be available for you to use in your business.’
But, there are exemptions, such as eating and drinking at public establishments, along with not having to wear them in private homes and vehicles.
“The order does not apply to children under 6 years of age; a person who has one or more medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing a face covering,” said Robinson. “It also applies to an individual who is obtaining a service involving their nose or face, for which temporary removal of the face mask covering is necessary to perform the service.”
The rest of the self-protection mantra was repeated by Sacred Heart officials joining the governor on Sunday, including CEO Dawn Rudolph and Ascension CEO Tom VanOsdol.
“Wash your hands frequently; maintain an appropriate physical distancing, and wear a mask in public to protect others,” said VanOsdol.
“If you feel sick, or some into contact with someone with COVID-19, go get tested; and quarantine until you get negative results,” said Rudolph.
“This is a public health safety measure, similar to safety standards we follow every day like obeying traffic laws; this is no different, concluded VanOsdol.”