Florida breaks record with more than 21K new COVID cases

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (AP) — Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to federal health data released last Saturday, as its theme park resorts again started asking visitors to wear masks indoors.

The state has become the new national epicentre for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the United States (US) as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and along with the state legislature, has limited local officials’ ability to impose restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. DeSantis last Friday barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month.

The latest numbers were recorded last Friday and released last Saturday on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. The figures show how quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State; only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases. The previous peak in Florida had been 19,334 cases reported on January 7, before the availability of vaccinations became widespread.

The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state’s peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalisations by a few weeks.

DeSantis has blamed the surge on a seasonal increase — more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus. About 60 per cent of Floridians 12 and older are vaccinated, ranking it about midway among the states.

The Florida Hospital Association said last Friday that statewide COVID-19 hospitalisations are nearing last year’s peak, and one of the state’s largest healthcare systems, AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, this week advised it would no longer be conducting non-emergency surgeries in order to free up resources for COVID-19 patients.

Cars waiting in line near a signage at Barnett Park in Orlando, Florida. PHOTO: AP