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Florida’s COVID-19 deaths rise as it leads the U.S. in hospital rates

A masked first-grader raises his hand in class.
First-graders Alex Albin, left, and Tyler Custodio wear masks in class at Addison Mizner School in Boca Raton on Aug. 10. Palm Beach County Schools opened the school year with a masking requirement that includes an opt-out option.
(Joe Cavaretta / Sun-Sentinel)

Florida’s health officials say the number of COVID-19 deaths jumped significantly from 600, reported in the previous week, to more than 1,000 this week.

The new deaths tallied by the Florida Department of Health raise the total COVID-19 death toll to 40,766. Last summer, the state reported seven-day averages of about 185 deaths per day, whereas the average Friday stood at 153. But the state continues to lead the country in rate of hospitalizations.

Florida has about 89 adult patients with COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Hospitalizations rose slightly Friday from 15,358 to 15,441 patients, including about 3,200 patients who are in intensive care units. In its weekly report, the state had an average 21,680 new cases per day in the past seven days, continuing to reach all-time highs as it has in the last two weeks.

In Broward County, officials said the hospital beds for adult ICU patients were filled near capacity while their pediatric ICU beds were entirely full. Many of Florida’s hospitals can convert spaces like conference rooms and ambulatory centers into COVID units.

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Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Assn., said hospitals were using other spaces such as cafeterias.

“Between increasing numbers of COVID patients and unusually high patient volume of extremely ill non-COVID patients, our hospitals are working to maximize their available staff and beds,” Mayhew said in a statement.

California’s coronavirus case rate remains significantly less than Florida and Texas: two common points of comparison given their population size and different pandemic responses.

Some officials worry the surge of cases fueled by the Delta variant is happening as children return to school for the fall semester, most without a mandatory mask policy. Various school districts have already reported cases among students and staff, and although they were probably infected before classes resumed, officials have placed some under quarantine.

In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine. As of Friday afternoon, the school district had reported 134 cases, of which 108 were students and 26 employees.

In Broward County, where classes have not started, two elementary school teachers and a teacher assistant, all in their late 40s, died from COVID-19 in a 24-hour span earlier this week, the teachers union said in an emailed statement. The three were unvaccinated.

Union President Anna Fusco had previously told WFOR-TV in Miami on Thursday that it was four teachers, but the union later said the fourth death was a Broward County Public Schools graduate with close ties to the school district through her job.

School superintendents have pleaded with Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow them to adopt clear mask requirements that follow guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending masks be worn indoors at schools nationwide.

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Gov. Greg Abbott directs agencies to find additional medical staff and he requests that hospitals postpone elective procedures as the Delta variant overwhelms hospitals statewide. But his ban on mask mandates remains in place.

The Republican governor has issued orders to block school mask mandates, saying school districts should allow parents to opt out if they don’t want their children to wear masks in classrooms. A Florida judge gave DeSantis until Monday to defend his attempts to block mandatory school mask policies against a lawsuit by parents of several school districts.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ordered the state to file a motion to dismiss a complaint that argues the governor’s orders and ensuing rules are violating the Florida Constitution by not offering a safe education as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rising since July.

The lawsuit also says the state constitution grants power solely to local school boards to operate, control and supervise classes within their districts. The parents maintain that while it may be safe to operate schools in some areas of the state without masks, it is not safe to do so in “crisis” areas of Florida, which includes Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

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The parents who brought the lawsuit are from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Alachua, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale.


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