Florida became the third state in the U.S. to reach 3 million cases of COVID-19, a total surpassed by only 15 countries in the world.
Cases in the state fell very slightly this week, with 150,740 compared to 151,764 last week, but deaths were on the rise. The state saw 1,486 deaths this week compared to 1,071 the week before. Florida reported an all-time death record, with 1,486 deaths in the past week – nearly 15% above the previous record of 1,296 deaths in a week of January.
Northeast Florida is bearing the brunt of the state’s COVID surge, with Baptist Health’s five hospitals in the area seeing more than double the number of patients with COVID they saw at the previous peak of the pandemic last summer.
“Jacksonville is kind of the epicenter of this. They had one of the lowest vaccination rates going into July and that has probably really came back to bite them,” Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, told the Associated Press.
As hospitals are overrun with COVID cases, Orlando’s mayor asked residents to conserve water and cut back on watering lawns and washing cars for at least a week. The city is facing a strain on potable water, and the liquid oxygen needed to treat the water is being prioritized for COVID patients in hospitals.
“If worse came to worse, we would have to look at a boil water alert,” Orlando Utility Commission Chief Customer and Marketing Officer Linda Ferrone said.
Orlando’s largest health care system said there were 1,620 patients currently hospitalized, twice as many of last winter’s peak.
“This is unfortunately a crisis of unprecedented proportions,” said Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director of infection prevention and epidemiologist at AdventHealth.
Meanwhile, Florida school districts are in the middle of a tug-of-war between state and federal authorities over mask mandates.
Florida’s State Board of Education has warned Broward and Alachua counties — which have defied the state’s anti-mask mandate order — to reverse course and allow mask exemptions within 48 hours or else risk pay cuts to administrators.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed an executive order banning schools from implementing mask mandates, but several school districts have put masking in place anyway, citing rising numbers of hospitalizations and cases of COVID among children in the state.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has been in touch with school districts to urge them to hold out against those threats, ensuring them that federal funds designated for COVID relief could be used to make up lost pay.
“Let me reiterate: we stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff,” Cardona said Friday.
– Mike Stucka and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
Also in the news:
►Mexico has already reported more COVID-19 deaths in 2021 than it did in all of 2020, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
►Montana is the only state to ban vaccine requirements for employees under a new law passed earlier this year that deemed such requirements as a condition for employment to be “discrimination.”
►San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require full vaccination to participate in public indoor activities, including going to restaurants and gyms on Friday. The rule surpasses New York City, which only requires proof of partial vaccination.
►Children in North Carolina must now get parental permission to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, after a new law was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday. Previously, minors had the legal right to be treated for communicable diseases on their own, worrying some lawmakers who wanted more control over whether their kids received the COVID vaccine.
►Honolulu officials notified the University of Hawaii that fans won’t be allowed at season-opening events due to the state’s current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitals being overwhelmed, the university said in a statement Friday.
►Mississippi’s poison control center has seen an increased number of people calling after taking an anti-parasite livestock drug to treat COVID-19 after misinformation spread on social media. “Patients should be advised to not take any medications intended to treat animals and should be instructed to only take ivermectin as prescribed by their physician,” the state’s health department said.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has had more than 37.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 627,821 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 210.7 million cases and 4.4 million deaths. More than 169.9 million Americans — 51.2% of the population — have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Where are the most people declining COVID-19 vaccines? See how your state ranks. Read the full story.
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Case count records shattered across the country; U.S. reports more than 1 million new cases
About 116 communities shattered their all-time case count records for the week ending Friday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. The records included 29 counties in Georgia, 26 counties in Florida, 16 Mississippi counties, nine Kentucky counties, nine Oregon counties and eight Louisiana parishes.
The current surge of cases is also beginning to lead to records for deaths. Cases were rising in 44 states, down from 50 states earlier this month. Deaths were rising in 42 states.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has reported more than 1 million new coronavirus cases in the last week. That level of cases hasn’t been seen in more than six months, since the week ending Feb. 1, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
At the last week’s pace of 1,016,033 cases, the United States is reporting more than 100 cases every minute. The pace of new cases is nearly 13 times as fast as the last relative lull of 79,095 less than two months ago.
Deaths in the country have leaped up to 6,825 per week; an American is now dying about every 89 seconds.
– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
Faith leaders are encouraging vaccinations, framing it as a religious obligation. And it’s working.
Across the country, faith leaders are urging their community members to get vaccinated. Some have even called getting vaccinated a religious obligation grounded in concerns for the greater good.
While some faith communities are struggling with continued vaccine hesitancy, in many cases, the push by religious leaders is working – recent studies show hesitancy rates dropping by 11 to 15 percentage points across all major faith groups.
Messaging from religious leaders, more than from political or medical representatives, may be the most effective in encouraging vaccinations, according to a South Dakota State University survey.
“Faith leaders are seen as those outside players who can approach somebody from within their community,” said David Wiltse, an associate professor of political science at South Dakota State University who led the survey.
– Christine Fernando, USA TODAY
Puerto Rico touts some of the best COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country
About 79% of eligible Puerto Ricans have gotten at least one vaccine shot protecting them against the COVID-19 infection, giving this low-income, Democratic-leaning U.S. territory in the Caribbean one of the best vaccination rates in the country. Nationally, the rate for partial vaccination is about 70%.
As of Thursday, Puerto Rico hit 68.5% for full vaccination of eligible people, dramatically higher than the approximately 51% national rate.
Island officials attribute their success to a combination of clear public health messaging and a near-absence of conspiracy theorists and the political divide that has marked the pandemic elsewhere within the United States. And while Puerto Rican officials worry the delta variant is gaining strength, they are confident their high vaccination levels will protect the island’s large elderly population.
– Trevor Hughes and Gabriela Miranda, USA TODAY
Nursing homesworry vaccination mandate for workers could worsen staff shortages
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that all nursing homes should require their staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Some nursing home administrators are worried the decision will cause workers to head for the exits at facilities already struggling to keep employees. Others have applauded Biden’s decision, calling it a way to help protect elderly nursing home residents, who are among the most vulnerable to severe effects of the virus.
Nursing homes have been at the frontlines of the outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and their workers were among the first to be eligible for the vaccine. But hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers nationwide still are not vaccinated, according to federal data. Staff vaccination rates nationwide range from 44% to 88%, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
– Christine Fernando, USA TODAY; Titus Wu, The Columbus Dispatch; and Deborah Yetter, The Courier Journal
CDC warns at-risk travelers not to go on cruises, even if vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for travelers who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to recommend they avoid cruise ships, regardless of vaccination status.
The new guidance applies to older adults, people with certain medical conditions and pregnant and recently pregnant people. Prior to Friday’s announcement, the agency recommended that only people who were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 avoid cruise ships.
The CDC’s website says the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread easily between people in close quarters on ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is “high.”
– Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press