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As states crack down on COVID, in surging Florida, it's silence from DeSantis

Florida has 863,619 coronavirus cases with 17,585 deaths; Palm Beach County has 56,907 cases with 1,643 deaths.

Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post
A car turns into the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beach Beaches in West Palm Beach Nov. 5 for drive-through COVID-19 testing.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is an outlier among his fellow state leaders who in recent days have cracked down on bars, restaurants and other businesses in hopes of curbing the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Even as the number of new cases in Florida on Thursday swelled by another 5,607, DeSantis gave no indication he plans to follow the lead of his counterparts, including governors in other Republican strongholds.

While many governors used Veterans Day as an opportunity to remind their constituents that many have been asked to do more than wear a mask to help their nation, DeSantis put a video on his website thanking soldiers for their service.

More:PBC elections chief tests positive for COVID-19

More:Coronavirus Florida: Latest charts and case counts

The only news conference DeSantis has held in the past 15 days was on the morning after Election Day to laud Florida voters for handing its 29 electoral votes to President Donald Trump.

Since then, nearly 47,000 additional people in the state have been diagnosed with the highly contagious respiratory disease.

The state has averaged 5,089 new cases a day in November, far more than the 3,201 cases it tallied each day on average in October. Florida is now home to 863,619 confirmed cases, a 17.3% jump in the past 30 days.

A person is tested Wednesday for COVID-19 at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches drive-thru facility in West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach County, like many counties in the state, has mirrored those trends. The county has averaged 378 new cases a day in November, compared with 197 in October and 153 in September.

At the current pace, it is likely to tally at least 11,600 cases by the end of the month. That is more than it has logged in any other month except July, when 19,124 people were diagnosed and more than 300 were reported dead.

Overall, 56,907 people in the county have been diagnosed since the pandemic began.

More:Florida Democrats tell DeSantis to require masks, close beaches, back off schools

Other states cracking down

Facing the same increases, governors in other states have reinstituted restrictions on businesses and reinforced the need for people to wear masks and abide by social distancing rules.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who this week capped indoor gatherings at 25 people and limited indoor dining to 50%, famously told his constituents: “Just wear the damn masks.”

While cases in Maryland, like the rest of the nation, have soared in recent weeks, it has had fewer new cases per capita over the past week than Florida, according to a coronavirus tracker operated by the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Over the past seven days, Maryland has averaged 21.1 cases for every 100,000 residents compared with Florida’s average of 23.7 per 100,000.

New York, which has averaged an increase of 16.5 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past week, also limited public gatherings and ordered all bars, restaurants and gyms to close at 10 p.m.

Other states that have reinstituted restrictions in recent days include California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, North Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat whose efforts to impose a statewide mask mandate have been thwarted by county officials who simply opted out, said she would try to persuade the GOP-controlled legislature to impose one.

More:Editorial: Florida needs better leadership from DeSantis on the coronavirus pandemic

If she succeeds, Florida would be one of only 15 states that doesn’t require people to wear masks. 

DeSantis said he would never again order a lockdown

In addition to refusing to order people to wear masks, DeSantis also took the teeth out of local mask mandates, such as the one in Palm Beach County, by banning local officials from fining individuals for violating the rules.

Likewise, when he on Sept. 25 allowed bars, restaurants and other businesses to reopen and lifted capacity restrictions, he said he would never again order a lockdown and has prohibited local officials from instituting any restrictions.

He has said he doesn't believe restrictions on businesses slow the spread of the virus. Further, he said, people should have the ability to work and operate businesses.

Since DeSantis lifted the restrictions, all the key indicators for the virus have gotten worse.

The exception has been the number of people who have been reported dead from COVID-19. However, experts say, that could change.

More:DeSantis splits rapid-result tests among young and old

On Thursday, 73 new fatalities were reported. That is one of highest number of deaths reported on a single day for the past two weeks.

An additional five people were reported dead in the county. That, too, is one of the highest numbers of daily deaths reported in recent weeks.

Still, both numbers pale compared with those reported in July when the virus was raging. Overall, 17,585 people in the state, including 1,643 in the county, have died since the pandemic began.

Health experts said they expect fatalities to increase because of the recent spike in the number of people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.

For the first time since early September, more than 3,000 people are now hospitalized statewide.

On Thursday, 3,062 people were hospitalized throughout the state, including 212 in the county. A month ago, 2,105 people in the state, including 113 in the county, were hospitalized.

More:Despite surge, hospitals confident of coronavirus capacity

In addition to more hospitalizations, both the state and county positivity rates have increased. On Thursday, 7.32% of those tested statewide learned they had the disease. In the county, 7.24% of the tests were positive.

Global health experts said the rate, which indicates the prevalence of the virus, must consistently remain below 5.0% before any meaningful steps can be taken to control the spread of the disease.

Over the past 14 days, the daily average for both the state and the county has been 6.9%.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly's efforts to impose a mask mandate.

jmusgrave@pbpost.com

Coronavirus update

County: 56,907 cases, 1,643 deaths

Florida: 863,619 cases, 17,585 deaths

U.S.: 10,513,068 cases, 242,527 deaths

Global: 52,552,983 cases, 1,290,217 deaths