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COVID-19 case spike clouds Florida’s evolving reopening plans

A health worker conducts COVID-19 tests at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Sanford, Fla.John RaouxviaAP
A health worker conducts COVID-19 tests at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Sanford, Fla.John RaouxviaAP

The Center Square – The Florida Department of Health reported Friday afternoon 1,046 people in the state have died from COVID-19, while 4,817 are hospitalized and more than 30,500 have tested positive for the disease.

According to the state’s COVID-19 surveillance dashboard, 25 deaths were reported overnight Friday after 61 were recorded Wednesday and Thursday, the highest single-day totals since April 2.

The 1,261 new cases reported by the Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday was the highest number of new cases reported in a single day in more than two weeks.

 The increase in COVID-19 diagnoses came with the caveat that 21,298 people across the state were tested Thursday, the most in any single day.

While all Thursday test results were not available Friday afternoon, those processed indicated a positive ratio of about 10 percent. Overall, 320,984 have been tested in the state, with a positive ratio of 9.5 percent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday afternoon the positive ratio actually is about 6-7 percent, with a portion of positive results coming from “repeat positives, people testing positive and being in isolation, and testing positive two or three times, up to 21 days later.”

The governor attributed the spike in new cases to the increasing number of tests being administered across the state.

“Testing continues to be essential to our response,” DeSantis said, noting one of every 68 Floridians have been tested and one of every 46 people in South Florida has been tested.

Nevertheless, the spike could pose significant consequences for evolving plans to reopen the economy.

Under President Donald Trump’s Opening Up America Again plan, which DeSantis is using as a model, phase one in lifting safer-at-home restrictions requires 14 consecutive days of declining new COVID-19 positive cases.

The uptick was an ambient backdrop during four Re-Open Florida Task Force industry group teleconferences Friday as the panels finalized ideas on how to go about allowing nonessential businesses to reopen their doors once public health parameters are met.

The industry groups, which have met between two and five times each during the week, were to submit their recommendations Friday to the Re-Open Florida Task Force’s 22-member executive committee but will work on them through the weekend.

Among ideas that surfaced in several of the panels is a regional approach. More than 60 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases are in south Florida’s three urban counties.

Although the disease has been reported in all 67 counties, there are 20 where no deaths have occurred and others where few cases have been reported

DeSantis has suggested he may take a region-by-region approach, allowing some areas to reopen more quickly than others. He announced on Fox News this week he would be ”working on a coalition” with the governors of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi to orchestrate a regional approach.

Florida Police Chiefs Association Executive Director Amy Mercer raised concerns about a regional approach, warning that if some areas were open and others weren’t, people would migrate from places where the disease is more prevalent to where it is not, overwhelming law enforcement resources and potentially spreading the virus.

Monroe County officials said they, in essence, already are taking a regional stance, stating sheriff’s deputies are likely to man a checkpoint on U.S. Route 1 prohibiting nonresidents from getting onto the Keys until at least June 1.

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