Florida reports 5,004 new coronavirus cases

©Miami Herald

A long line of cars waiting to enter the COVID-19 drive-through testing site wraps around the Miami Beach Convention Center Thursday morning, June 25, 2020 around 11 a.m. - Emily Michot/Miami Herald/emichot@miamiherald.com

MIAMI — Florida’s Department of Health on Thursday confirmed 5,004 additional cases of COVID-19, the state’s second-highest single day total since the pandemic began. The state now has 114,018 confirmed cases.

Thursday’s total of newly confirmed cases is 504 fewer than Wednesday’s record total of 5,508, the highest number of newly confirmed cases announced in a single day. There were also 46 new deaths announced Thursday, raising the statewide death toll to 3,327.

Public health experts told the Miami Herald Wednesday that the state appears to be experiencing exponential growth of the virus spread and could be entering a new phase in the pandemic — one that looks a lot like the first phase.

Of the nearly 110,000 COVID-19 cases confirmed since March, nearly 30% — or more than 31,680 cases — have been reported in the last 10 days, as of Wednesday. The rise in cases has prompted New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to issue a joint travel advisory that requires travelers from states “with significant community spread of COVID-19” — including Florida — to quarantine for 14 days.

And while cases surge in Miami-Dade and statewide, testing volume has flat-lined in Florida, which ranks 29th among all 50 states in testing per 100,000 people, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis of data collected by the COVID Tracking Project.

Though public health experts said testing had flat-lined or even slowed in Florida, state officials have rejected that premise, pointing instead to two-week averages to claim that testing continues to increase.

Less than half of the new cases and less than half of the new deaths were in South Florida.

— Miami-Dade County reported 885 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths. The county now has a total of 28,664 confirmed cases and 935 deaths.

— Broward County reported 367 additional confirmed cases of the disease and one new death. The county now has 12,584 known cases and 379 deaths.

— Palm Beach County saw 304 additional confirmed cases and four new deaths. The county now has a total of 11,840 known cases and 486 deaths.

— Monroe County reported 14 additional cases of the disease and no new deaths. The Florida Keys now have a total of 188 confirmed cases and four deaths.

One of the tools that officials are relying on to determine if the coronavirus situation is improving in the state is hospitalization data. Unlike testing, which might be limited or take days to report results, hospitalizations can help give officials a real-time snapshot of how many people are severely ill with COVID-19.

The health department says it does not “have a figure” to reflect the number of people currently hospitalized and only provides the total number of hospitalizations in its statewide and county-level data. On Thursday, 201 hospitalizations were added, bringing the statewide total to 13,775.

While Florida’s Department of Health is not releasing current statewide hospitalization data to the public, hospitals in Miami-Dade are self-reporting a number of key metrics, including hospitalizations, to the county, which has made this data public. Some provide updates every day; others don’t.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade hospitalizations hit an all-time high for the third day in a row with 870 patients, according to Miami-Dade County’s “New Normal” dashboard data. According to Wednesday’s data, 142 people were discharged and 130 people were admitted.

While a record number of COVID-19 patients are filling Miami-Dade hospitals, with one medical center in Homestead reaching ICU capacity on Tuesday, hospitals countywide say they still have more beds available than beds filled with COVID-19 patients.

Hospital administrators say there is also a silver lining in the growing number of new cases and hospitalizations in Florida’s hardest-hit county: The patients are younger and not as severely ill as they were during the first wave in April, and doctors and nurses have gained valuable experience in the months-long pandemic — leading to shorter hospital stays and better outcomes.

Scientists are also still working to learn more about the virus, including how many people in the community are infected and have mild or no symptoms, which can make it difficult to determine what percentage of the cases hospitalizations represent.

Testing in Florida has seen steady growth since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Testing, like hospitalizations, helps officials determine the virus’ progress and plays a role in deciding whether it is safe to lift stay-at-home orders and loosen restrictions.

The recommended number of daily tests needed varies among experts, but the dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine told the governor that Florida needs to test about 33,000 people every day.

Florida’s Department of Health reported 59,202 new tests on Wednesday in Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update. The positive rate was 18.02% of the total, according to the report. In total, 2,037,374 tests have been conducted.

To date, 1,721,812 people have been tested in Florida. Of the total tested, 114,018 (about 6.62%) have tested positive. The state says there are 1,675 tests with pending results.

Health experts have previously told the Miami Herald that they were concerned the number of pending results listed by the state is an undercount. This is because Florida’s Health Department only announces the number of pending test results from state labs, not private ones — and private labs are completing more than 90% of state tests.

Previously, it has taken as long as two weeks for pending test results from private labs to be added into the state’s official count, making it difficult for officials to project the size and scale of the pandemic in the state. It’s unclear how quickly results are currently being sent to the state from private labs, as the turnaround time varies by lab.

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(Miami Herald staff writers Ben Conarck and Daniel Chang contributed to this report.)

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©2020 Miami Herald