TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida marked another grim COVID-19 milestone Thursday when health officials reported 120 new deaths from the coronavirus — the highest one-day jump yet amid a surge in new infections that continues to befuddle the state’s attempts to contain the outbreak.
The number of deaths announced Thursday was the highest since the 113 reported in early May. The cumulative death toll has now surpassed 4,000 as confirmed cases climbed by nearly 9,000 to more than 229,000.
The state also reported on Thursday the biggest 24-hour jump in hospitalizations, with more than 400 patients being admitted.
Intensive care units are quickly filling up including in some hospitals with the largest bed capacity such as the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and Tampa General Hospital.
Data from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration shows statewide about 14% of the total ICU beds were available Thursday.
Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, chief physician executive at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, said hospitals are on high alert and preparing to bring in temporary staff and trying to secure more rapid test kits, anticipating the numbers will continue to rise.
“We worry if we’re going to see a bump from the recent Fourth of July weekend,” she said.
The uncertainty over the state’s ability to contain the outbreak is undermining its efforts to steady its fragile economy.
Although two of Disney World’s four parks are expected to reopen Saturday, Bank of America earlier this week shuttered dozens of its branches in central and South Florida.
While the number of new jobless claims in Florida again fell — dipping by 67,070 last week, according to federal data — there were fresh worries that the ranks of the unemployed could again swell as restaurants and other establishments reclose to stave off new infections.
Hundreds of thousands of jobless Floridians could face deepening financial turmoil as their unemployment benefits run out.
Scott King filed for unemployment near the end of March, waiting two months before he received any money from Florida’s besieged unemployment system. He ran his own pet grooming business, but has been out of work, depleted his savings and now may be sick with the virus.
“I have just been applying for anything and everything that’s out there,” said King, who came down with flu-like symptoms last week and is now waiting for COVID-19 test results. “It’s very discouraging.”
Since mid-March, more than 2.3 million Floridians have sought unemployment benefits from the the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. The department said it has paid out about $9 billion in benefits on nearly 1.7 million processed claims, according to the state’s unemployment dashboard.
After moving to reopen the state’s economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis has left it to localities to decide if closures and other stricter measures are warranted — and heavily populated areas have done so. He has resisted calls to impose mandatory face mask in public spaces statewide, even as other governors have moved to do so.
The majority of Florida’s roughly 229,000 cases of COVID-19 have been concentrated in Florida’s most populous regions, with the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas among the state’s most intense hot spots.
The surge in hospitalizations in certain areas has spawned pleas for Floridians to wear masks and maintain social distancing to keep the virus from further spreading. It has also prompted some local officials to retrench.
As of Thursday, restaurants in Miami-Dade County won’t be allowed to serve patrons at indoor tables. Mayor Carlos Gimenez also ordered banquet halls to close until further notice, but he allowed gyms to remain open to customers who wear masks.
Bradley Kilgore, the chef and owner of the Kilgore Culinary Group, said he has had to close five of his restaurants and laid off more than 100 employees.
“It will be extremely difficult, as it already is, to look these people in their eyes,” he said, “and let them know that they don’t have a job anymore and we don’t have any answers.”
He called the recent restrictions a “nail in the coffin” for some restaurants.
AP reporters Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
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