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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 6,563 new cases of COVID-19, Wednesday, marking the eighth consecutive day of single-day increases topping 5,000.

The total number of cases statewide now stands at 158,997 and that total has more than doubled since Phase two of Governor Ron DeSantis's reopening plan went into effect June 5.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 45 new coronavirus-related deaths yesterday, increasing the statewide death toll to 3,550 fatalities.

Of the 1,981,915 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the rate of positive tests overall has now risen to 8.02 percent, which is the highest positivity rate Florida has experienced since May 5, when the state was reporting just over 36,000 cases.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 744 new cases of COVID-19, Wednesday, for a total of 16,798 documented cases of the virus. The Florida Department of Health also reports the coronavirus-related death toll for Southwest Florida now comes to 568 fatalities including seven new deaths reported yesterday in Collier County and one new death in Lee County.

Three of Southwest Florida's intensive-care units were at capacity, Wednesday, in part because of growing numbers of coronavirus cases.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration's daily bed tracker reports that Cape Coral Hospital, Physicians Regional Medical Center in Naples and Lehigh Regional Medical Center in Lehigh Acres had full ICUs as of Tuesday and Wednesday.

The News-Press reports, overall, the area's hospitals are at 82 percent capacity in their adult Intensive Care Units. The region's two largest hospital systems nearly doubled their COVID-19-related admissions in the past month.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital had a record 50 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. Sarasota and Manatee counties have been setting daily records for new coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

The Herald Tribune reports many of those with the infection are younger and less at risk of becoming severely ill, raising hopes that the rise in cases won't strain the local hospital system.

However, Sarasota Memorial’s caseload has been steadily increasing since early June.

According to AHCA, 94 percent of total beds and 83 percent of intensive care unit beds at Sarasota Memorial were occupied as of Tuesday. The hospital has the capability of expanding ICU space if needed.

Officials with the largest hospital in Miami-Dade, which is Florida's hardest-hit county by the pandemic, say they're scaling back on elective surgeries and other procedures due to a surge in hospital admissions. The AP reports, Jackson Health System says in a statement, it will begin limiting nonemergency admissions starting Monday due to "a steady increase" in the number of coronavirus patients over the past few weeks.

With July 4th approaching, Gov. Ron DeSantis says people at higher risk for COVID-19 should minimize contact with others, but he’s not telling everyone to stay home. DeSantis was asked, Wednesday, during a stop in Daytona Beach if he would rather have people in Florida stay home for the holiday weekend.

““If you’re somebody who is 65 or older, if you’re somebody who has a significant underlying medical condition, maybe your immune system’s compromised, some of the other key indicators that we’ve been talking about for months, I would be very cautious about the close contacts that you’re having outside the home,” said DeSantis.

The Governor also said he’s more concerned about people having parties indoors than going to the beach for July 4th weekend.

Many South Florida beaches will be closed for the holiday due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases. At Wednesday’s press conference in Daytona, DeSantis was asked whether Volusia County leaders should do the same.

“You know, doing things outdoors in Florida is less risky than doing things where you’re packed indoors,” said DeSantis.

“So, I think having the parks and having beaches, obviously, you know, it needs to be controlled, I think most of the localities like Brevard and here in Volusia have done that, but by and large the virus does not like sunshine, heat and humidity.”

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council and the Sanibel City Council are imposing mandatory mask policies.

The Fort Myers Beach face covering requirement went into effect Thursday at midnight and requires everyone over the age of six to have access to a face covering while away from their homes and to wear them when social distancing is not possible.

The new rule also means all business operators, employees and patrons are required to wear a face covering while inside a business. Fines for violators could be a maximum of $50 for individuals and a maximum of $500 for business operators.

Overall, though, Lee County plans to keep beaches open over the weekend.

The city of Sanibel's mask requirement applies to everyone ages two and up while indoors in public places. City Council members also approved a prohibition on paid beach parking from Friday to Monday.

Meanwhile, Collier County will restrict beach access and parking starting Friday, June 3.

Collier beaches will be closed from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The Naples Daily News reports, this includes beach access points at Vanderbilt Beach, Barefoot Beach, Seagate, Clam Pass Park, Tigertail Beach, South Marco Beach and North Gulfshore Drive.

The cities of Naples and Marco Island have taken similar measures.

County parking garages and lots at beach access points will only be open to vehicles with county or city beach parking stickers on weekends.

The Naples Pier and city dock will also be closed to foot traffic.

Collier Commissioners and Naples City leaders are encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing, but stopped short of adopting any kind of mandatory mask requirement.

Matt Peddie
Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.