Florida coronavirus update for Wednesday: Infections could kill nearly 7,000 in Florida; DeSantis defies shutdown advice

Florida National Guardsmen walk past nurses gathering before the start of testing for Covid-19 at the Regional Temporary Drive-Through Testing Site at the Orange County Convention Center on April 1, 2020 in Orlando, Fla. Wednesday marked the first day of testing age restrictions being lifted at the OCCC site. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
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By Orlando Sentinel Staff Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — As health data experts gave clearer estimates of coronavirus’ toll, they warned that even with social distancing, Florida could see a median of 6,937 deaths, and the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 people in the United States in the coming months.

Florida now has 6,694 cases with 82 deaths. Nationwide, with over 189,700 cases, the U.S. death toll surged past 4,000 by Wednesday morning. Worldwide, there are over 883,000 cases and more than 44,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

The U.S. surgeon general said Wednesday that national guidelines amount to “a national stay-at-home order” that everyone should heed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Dr. Jerome Adams’ declaration came in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who despite mounting concerns from experts opted again Tuesday not to order the entire state to stay home to curb the epidemic.

The virus is now projected to kill thousands of Floridians even in a best-case scenario, as cases are continuing to double almost every three days in the state. A failure to impose stringent isolation measures — coupled with an older population — could make Florida one of the nation’s hardest-hit regions, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

One more Central Florida county, though, opted to enact a stay-at-home order as Sumter County, which includes the massive retirement community of The Villages, joined Orange and Osceola counties with such a measure. Lake and Seminole counties have put in more social distancing requirements, but held off a stay-at-home order. Daytona Beach, meanwhile, in Volusia County, has enacted a curfew.

Meanwhile, another cruise ship with sick people on board is planning to disembark in Fort Lauderdale, as the U.S. Coast Guard considers sequestering ships “indefinitely” to deal with increased demand for medical evacuations from the fleet of cruise ships creeping off Florida’s coast with nowhere to go.

South Florida is the epicenter of the pandemic in Florida, with 3,893 total cases in Miami-Dade (2,123), Broward (1,219) and Palm Beach (551) counties, nearly 58% of the state’s cases.

On Monday evening, DeSantis enacted a “safer at home” executive order in four southeast Florida counties that will last through April 15. But he’s declined to take that step beyond South Florida, saying the White House’s task force has not recommended it.

Orange County’s 373 cases places it fourth in the state, and it leads Central Florida, followed by Osceola’s 110, Seminole’s 103, Volusia’s 80, Polk’s 73, Lake’s 66, Sumter’s 51 and Brevard’s 37. (See details on all Central Florida cases here).

While 26% of Florida cases are among people 65 and older, coronavirus has been found in the young as well. Orange County is tracking two cases in babies under age 1, as well as two 1-year-olds; Osceola and Brevard each has one infant case. Statewide, and there are 23 cases of infected patients age 4 and younger.

Federal and state officials have either asked or flat-out prohibited hospitals from performing elective procedures in order to preserve supplies, free up beds and protect providers from potential exposure to COVID-19, but many hospitals around the nation, including Orlando Health, are still performing the procedures.

On Monday, the state recommended public schools not re-open until after April 30. All of Central Florida’s school districts then fell in line with that recommendation.

Unlike Florida, many states have enacted statewide stay-at-home orders including New York, which has more than 76,000 cases and 1,700 deaths. Arizona is the latest state to enact such and order joining 30 other states plus Washington D.C. with similar approaches.

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