Coronavirus: Florida sees its biggest daily rise in cases ahead of Republican convention

State was one of the first to start reopening its economy despite warnings from public health experts

Andrew Naughtie
Monday 15 June 2020 09:31
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Donald Trump on moving convention away from North Carolina

Florida has announced a record daily increase in officially confirmed coronavirus cases, just days after Donald Trump decided to make the state the site of this summer’s Republican convention.

Mr Trump’s moved the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville because Democratic North Carolina governor Roy Cooper would not guarantee to lift social distancing measures, meaning the Republican convention would probably take place in a part-empty arena with the crowd obliged to wear masks.

Florida, on the other hand, was one of the first states to start easing its lockdown, which it did in early May against the advice of senior public health experts including White House adviser Anthony Fauci.

At first, there was little or no marked uptick in cases, leading to some speculation that governor Ron DeSantis was justified in his judgement that the move was safe. However, the new numbers have sparked concern across the country that a new surge in both hospitalisations and deaths could be on the horizon.

At a press conference just before the record number was reported, Mr DeSantis told reporters that numbers were going up because of an expansion in testing, including to asymptomatic people and those less at risk, and that there was no sign that major events that saw people gathering together had led to a spike in infections.

“A lot of people said ‘what about Memorial Day?’ because a lot of people thought that weekend would do something, but if you look at – from Memorial Day weekend … Miami-Dade Covid hospitalisations are down 13 per cent. Duval county, where they’re going to have the Republican National Committee (sic), Memorial Day weekend to the present, Covid hospitalisations are down 50 per cent.

“And so I think it’s important for people to understand who is being tested now compared to who was being tested in March and early April when we had kind of our peaks then.”

The governor also pointed out that positive test results were concentrated in high-risk groups, including elderly residents of care homes and retirement communities as well as agricultural workers who work in very close proximity.

While the news of the record number is worrying, Florida is not an outlier. The latest spike comes along with similar rises in other states that have relaxed their measures.

Among these is Arizona, which has seen cases surging day-by-day in recent weeks. Hospital systems have warned that the rise in cases correlates with new hospitalisations, and that their intensive care units are increasingly worried about being overwhelmed.

The state began opening up its economy in May, with gyms and restaurants operating again. And while testing has been expanded, the rate of positive tests has markedly increased.

Other states that started opening up early include Texas, where governor Greg Abbott has said the state will proceed with relaxation even as the state sees new spikes in both hospitalisations and the 7-day average number of cases.

Utah and Oregon, meanwhile, have both frozen their reopening plans after seeing record highs in their daily case numbers, with governors in both states saying they need to investigate what’s driving the increases before moving ahead.

Among the states only now proceeding with relaxation plans is New York, where all regions have finally met the authorities’ strict criteria to begin a phased reopening. However, governor Andrew Cuomo has warned that where local governments do not enforce regulations on distancing, the state will be prepared to reimpose lockdowns if necessary.

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