Florida’s Covid Cases Up Fivefold in 2 Weeks: ‘The Numbers Are Scary’

MIAMI — John Delgado has slept in a tent in his backyard for 57 nights and counting.

As the inventory manager of Farm Share, an immense South Florida food bank, Mr. Delgado, 51, finds himself holding his breath under his face-covering as he speaks to the many clients who come in without masks, for fear that coronavirus particles will seep through the fabric.

Because he interacts with the public every day, Mr. Delgado sleeps outdoors to avoid contaminating his wife, aging mother-in-law, three sons and grandson. At night, he sometimes peeks through the window to watch his wife sleep. By day, he does socially -distanced yard work with his sons.

“I want to sleep in my house, sleep in my bed,” he said. “I want to hug my wife, my children, grandson, and want to go out to the community not feeling like I’m in ‘The Walking Dead,’ where I’m going to be attacked by a zombie. I want to live. Right now, I don’t feel like I’m living.

“How long is this going to be?”

On Saturday, for the second straight day, Florida crushed its previous record for new coronavirus cases, reporting 9,585 infections. Another 8,530 were reported on Sunday.

The closest hospital to Mr. Delgado’s house in Homestead, 40 miles south of Miami, is nearing capacity as Covid-19 cases soar. The situation in Miami is equally serious: One-third of all patients admitted to the city’s main public hospital over the past two weeks after going to the emergency room for car-crash injuries and other urgent problems have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Six-hour lines formed in Jacksonville over the weekend as thousands of people flocked to get drive-through tests. Orlando has seen an explosion of coronavirus: nearly 60 percent of all cases diagnosed in that county came in just the past two weeks.

Much of Florida’s new surge in cases appears to follow from the reopening of beaches, bars, restaurants and other social activities. The state’s beaches are full and throngs of revelers pack its waterways on boats.

Many people have had enough of staying inside, feeling trapped and scared. As fear subsided, coronavirus grew.

Florida now joins South Carolina and Nevada among the states that broke daily records over the weekend.

“I’m one of the people who contributed to the 9,000-person day,” said Ian Scott, a 19-year-old college sophomore in Orlando who tested positive on Friday. He has no idea how he got it.

Mr. Scott said that for young people, getting tested has become an amusing pastime. They challenge each other to see who can get the nasal swab test without crying. About half of his fraternity has tested positive.

“We’re seeing positive, positive, positive, positive,” he said. “My generation says: ‘Let’s get this over with. Let’s suck it up for two weeks, sit in our rooms, play video games, play with our phones, finish online classes, and it’s over.”

Mr. Scott barely felt sick, and was fine by the time the test results came back. Patients like him could help account for the fact that while Florida’s daily case count has increased fivefold in two weeks, the rate of deaths has not increased so far. State records show that hospitalization rates have inched up but are not at crisis levels.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said more Covid-related fatalities in the state had been people over 90 than people under 65.

The median age of new coronavirus patients is now 36, the Department of Health said.

“Those groups are much less at risk for very serious consequences,” Governor DeSantis said of younger patients. But they can spread the virus to their older relatives and others who are medically vulnerable without even realizing it, he stressed.

Officials have done little so far to halt public interactions. The mayor of one affluent Miami suburb implored residents this week to stop throwing house parties; on Friday, state officials prohibited the sale of alcohol in bars. Miami-Dade and Broward counties chose to close its beaches for the busy Fourth of July weekend.

Governor DeSantis said the surge of new cases can be attributed to the huge numbers of tests results that are coming in each day. But he acknowledged that since the second week of June, the share of tests coming back positive has been creeping upward. That trend coincided with the reopening of the economy, and also the onset of recent street protests.

Statewide, about 20 percent of people aged 25 to 34 are testing positive, he said at a news conference Sunday.

He said the risk has also increased as temperatures outside rise and people seek relief in the air conditioning.

“As it gets warmer in Florida, people want to beat the heat,” he said. “They are more likely to do that indoors, in closed spaces. That is going to increase the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.”

Florida public health experts worry that the surging case numbers will lead to a crush of hospitalizations and, eventually, of deaths.

“We know that there’s a lag,” said Natalie E. Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

Even though young people are less likely to have severe cases, the long-term consequences of Covid-19 infection among the young are still unknown, she said. “Some people do get pretty sick,” she said. “Even what’s classified as a mild disease, some people really get the wind knocked out of them for a week.”

  • Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Mariely Ferraro, 40, a heart-monitor technician who lives in Orlando, caught Covid-19 seven weeks ago and has been unable to shake it.

“I think the situation in Florida is scary,” she said. “The numbers are climbing, and the numbers are scary. I wish there was a way that it could be explained. If there were 9,000 people in one day, are they symptomatic? Do they have fevers? Are they sick?”

Ms. Ferraro’s entire family caught the virus last month, but only she is still ill. Her 13- and 14-year-old daughters had very mild symptoms, losing their sense of taste and smell for a while.

“The whole age thing is — I don’t want to say offensive, but it’s untrue,” she said. “Coronavirus is affecting everyone. People protesting the masks think it’s fake. It’s not fake. It sucks to wake up and you can’t catch your breath, or to have a headache you can’t get rid of, no matter how much Advil you take. It sucks to take a shower and fall down because you got dizzy.”

Shamarial Roberson, deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Health, said in an interview on Sunday that the state is monitoring hospital admissions and intensive care units’ bed capacity and watching for problem areas.

One of them is an outbreak at a meatpacking facility in Suwannee County in northern Florida, she said.

“We are working to make sure that if we are seeing surges, that we’re in communication with those hospital systems to ensure their capacity,” she said. “I am keeping my eye on the entire state of Florida.”

Rose Castanon, 35, who works on the business side of a hospital chain in Orlando, tested positive June 18, after her gym alerted her to a fellow customer who was infected.

“I know almost 10 people that have tested positive,” she said. “All of our friends are freaking out, because it’s getting a little too close to home now.”

Jeanette Matas, a 41-year-old reading teacher in Coral Gables, Fla., had been limiting her visits to her 95-year-old grandmother, Reina L. Palacios, so as not to put her at risk. But her grandmother wound up catching the virus from her home health care attendant, a woman in her 40s. Mrs. Palacios died on June 17.

“You can’t blame them for feeling trapped” Ms. Matas said of the people who had lost patience with isolation and had resumed socializing in public. “I feel like they’re stupid. They don’t realize what they’re doing. They’re only thinking of themselves.”

Now, Ms. Matas said she is conflicted about what to do with her two children when it is time for school.

“Parents are scared; teachers are scared,” she said. “I don’t know what to do. I think about it every day.”

Amaris Castillo in Tampa and Patricia Mazzei in Miami contributed reporting.

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