TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) — On April 1, just weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, 7,773 people in Florida had tested positive for the insidious disease. By July 1, that total was up to 158,997. On Oct. 1, it had leaped to 709,144.
And on Tuesday, Florida reached a milestone that nobody wanted to see: It exceeded 1 million reported cases.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and health officials say vaccines are on the way that offer hope for curbing the pandemic. In the meantime, thousands of new cases and dozens of deaths are reported every day in Florida, continuing to upend the lives of families throughout the state.
The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday reported 8,847 additional cases, bringing the total to 1,008,166 since the pandemic began. It also reported 82 deaths of Florida residents, bringing that total to 18,679.
The way Florida, other states, the nation and the world have handled the pandemic will be studied far into the future. But DeSantis said this week he is focused on plans for vaccines and reiterated his view that government-imposed mandates such as requiring people to wear face masks and shutting down businesses won’t prevent the spread of the disease.
“I’m opposed to mandates, period,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday about continuing to allow public-school students to attend classes in person or online. “I don’t think they work. People in Florida wear them (masks) when you go out. I mean, they don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it. Fining people, I think, is totally overboard.”
DeSantis said the state needs to focus on protecting the most-vulnerable people, such as residents of long-term care facilities. But he rejected the possibilities of shutdowns, saying the “effects of that are profound.”
DeSantis, however, drew fire from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who said he “refuses to show leadership” by requiring masks. She said masks slow the spread of the virus.
“This is not something that goes against your personal liberties,” Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, told The News Service of Florida. “You have to put on a seatbelt in the car. You have got to put your kids in a car seat. You can’t text and drive. This is something that is going to protect not just you but your loved ones and the people around you.”
As Florida exceeded 1 million cases since the start of the pandemic, it and many other states are experiencing surges this fall. On Nov. 1, for example, Florida reported 807,412 cases. With the 1,008,166 cases reported Tuesday, the state saw slightly more than 200,000 cases in a month — after a nearly 100,000-case increase the previous month.
Throughout the pandemic, the hardest-hit area of the state has been heavily populated Southeast Florida, with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties combining for 406,000 of the cases.
But cases have popped up throughout the state, from the 603 cases in sparsely populated Liberty County to the 231,761 in Miami-Dade, according to the Department of Health website.