FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. >> Florida recorded 132 coronavirus deaths today, a one-day record for the state that has a possible caveat but also is in line with its skyrocketing fatality rate over the past week and its rapidly growing number of cases over the last month.
The 132 deaths is a 10% jump over the previous record of 120 set just Thursday. However, today’s total likely includes deaths that happened Saturday or Sunday but were not reported by hospitals until Monday.
Still, Florida’s rolling seven-day average is now 81 deaths per day, currently the second-highest in the country behind Texas, and double the 39 the state averaged two weeks ago and nearly triple the 30 per day averaged a month ago.
Doctors had been predicting that a surge in deaths would follow Florida’s jump in daily reported cases, from about 2,000 a day a month ago to more than 12,000 now. The growing caseload is partly driven by increased testing, but a larger percentage of tests are coming back positive, jumping from 6% a month ago to more than 18%.
Almost all people infected with coronavirus survive, but those who do succumb usually die two or more weeks after they are first diagnosed.
Florida’s death toll is nowhere near the national record. When COVID-19 was ravaging New York three months ago, it recorded 799 deaths on April 9 and had a top seven-day average of 763 deaths on April 14. New York now has one of the nation’s lowest death rates per capita, recording 10 per day over the last week.
Overall, the state has recorded almost 292,000 cases since March 1 and 4,513 deaths. Since the outbreak began, an average of 33 Floridians have died per day from COVID-19, which makes it one of the state’s biggest killers.
Using 2018 Florida Health Department statistics, the last year available, coronavirus’ daily deaths would rank fifth behind heart disease (128 deaths a day), cancer (123), stroke (36), accidental injury (34) and tied with chronic lung disease.
But coronavirus is easily the state’s deadliest infectious disease, killing three times more Floridians than flu/pneumonia (8 a day), AIDS (2) and viral hepatitis (1) combined.
Currently, Florida hospitals are treating 8,253 COVID-19 patients, according to the state health department, and that is causing strain at some facilities.
Dr. David De La Zerda, ICU medical director and pulmonologist at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, said his and other intensive care units are short-staffed.
“We are seeing right now double the number of what we saw at the peak of the last wave,” De La Zerda said. “If we continue at the same pace, we are going to be out of beds soon.”
Physicians and nurses, he said, were feeling tired after working in the pandemic for several months.
“We will continue to do our job, but it is long hours. It is a lot of work, a lot of burnout, but we are here for our patients. We just hope they do their part outside.”
Palm Beach County nurse Marlyn Hoilette spent four months working at a COVID unit until she tested positive a few weeks ago just as Florida’s cases started spiking.
She’s planning to return to work in a few weeks, but is fearful as the numbers rise to record heights and patients flood their floors that she and other front line workers aren’t being protected. Staffing and protective equipment shortages are in short supply.
Staff who test positive are supposed to return to work after two negative tests, but she said hospitals are desperate for nurses to return and are not following guidelines.
“They’re doing a substandard thing saying if you have one negative (with) no symptoms you could come back and wear a mask. That’s not good,” Hoilette said.
“Nurses are getting sick, nursing assistants are getting sick and my biggest fear is that it seems we want to return folks to work even without a negative test,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time before you wipe the other staff out if you’re contagious, so that is a big problem.”