Coronavirus Florida: Palm Beach County has first death as state cases top 1,000

Article Courtesy of  The Palm Beach Post

By Sonja Isger

Published March 24, 2020


An 88-year-old man became the first person to die from the coronavirus in Palm Beach County, as the number of confirmed cases across Florida rose to 1,007, the state health department reported Sunday.

In addition, the county saw 16 new cases in the span of a day, bringing the total confirmed reports of the respiratory illness without treatment or cure to 72 — a number nearly double what it was three days earlier.

With the county’s fatality, the death toll statewide rose to 13.

The region from Palm Beach County south to Miami-Dade County has become the state’s epicenter for coronavirus, with more than half of the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease that is sweeping the globe.

The man who died had been the oldest confirmed case in the Palm Beach County. A 6-year-old girl remains the youngest, and an 84-year-old man is now the oldest still battling the illness.

The near-doubling of confirmed COVID-19 cases from Friday to Sunday in Palm Beach County echoed the jump in cases across Florida.

And those totals are certain to grow even as Gov. Ron DeSantis and local leaders move to get more people tested and curb public gatherings where the virus would be sure to spread.

“Some of that is to be expected. Florida is testing more people today than they were before,” DeSantis said from the parking lot of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where one of the state’s latest testing sites opened to first responders Sunday and will expand services to the public Monday.

The state counted not quite 6,300 tests administered as of Friday. That number hit 11,200 by Sunday evening. The rate of positives remained rather steady in those three days, hovering close to 9 percent.

In Broward County, 217 people are infected, up from 164 Saturday night. And in Miami-Dade County, infected patients rose to 227 from 169.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, , right, speaks during a news conference alongside Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez, center, and Jared Moskowitz, Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, Sunday, March 22, 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. DeSantis spoke at the stadium where the National Guard opened a coronavirus drive-thru testing site. On Sunday, they were only testing first responders. On Monday, they planned to expand it to people at least 65 years old who are showing symptoms of the illness.

Besides announcing efforts across the state to test those most at risk to exposure from the disease, DeSantis said the state is bracing for what comes next: growing hospitalizations.

DeSantis said Florida has 18,131 available beds statewide. It has 1,700 beds in intensive-care units. And about a third of the state’s hospitals have at least half of their space available.

The state is building a field hospital in Broward County and plans another in Miami-Dade, each with capacity for 250 people. Officials are also eyeing what the governor described as six vacant medical facilities.

The state received 300,000 of the higher, medical grade N95 face masks Saturday and will give health-care workers and first responders priority in distributing them, said Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Moskowitz said he expects 2 million more to arrive in the next week, and they will distributed further to those in need, including workers in nursing homes.

The last week has been a blur of closures across the state, seeking to stem the spread of the virus by pulling the plug on places where people gather and where the contagion could easily spread.

By various edicts from state agencies and the governor, schools have closed. So too have movie theaters, malls, bowling alleys and some beaches. Sit-down restaurants have shuttered dining rooms, but take-out or delivery still is an option at some establishments.

Drive-in church service has become a thing. United Methodist churches in Jupiter and West Palm Beach conducted such services Sunday morning.

On Sunday, the county closed another congregating loophole: recreational boating. After it became clear that people were snubbing the constricts of social-distancing by gathering on boats and in the shallows of the Intracoastal Waterway, county authorities issued an order closing all boat ramps and marinas.

St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach also elevated restrictions, announcing that starting Monday, it would no longer allow visitors in its facilities. Instead it advised families to connect with those in the hospital’s care via their phones and electronic tablets.

“We take these proactive precautions to protect our patients, team members, and the communities we serve,” St. Mary’s Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia McCauley said in a statement issued Sunday.

“We are sensitive to the separation this restriction causes our patients and their loved ones, but we believe this measure of protection is essential at this time to keep people safe,” McCauley wrote.

The move is similar to restrictions the state put into place for places that house the elderly. The department of health notes 25 cases of the disease in long-term care facilities as of Saturday morning, but none of those 25 are in Palm Beach County.

The state reports 402 tests in Palm Beach County came back negative and 15 are pending. It continues to investigate 489 patients, ages 1 to 104.

Meanwhile, the airways filled with grim accounts of countries across the globe battling a scourge that has created more severely sick patients than there are hospital beds and ventilators to care for them.

Globally, the number of confirmed cases is 329,000, with more than 14,300 deaths

In the U.S., where the number of cases tops 32,600, with 402 deaths, health professionals give bleak accounts of their dwindling personal-protection supplies.

The virus already is among Palm Beach County residents.

The homeowners association at Valencia Falls, a 705-home retirement community west of Delray Beach, alerted residents last week that someone in the community has tested positive for the virus, three residents who had seen the email told The Palm Beach Post on Saturday.

In Palm Beach Gardens, three more firefighters were quarantined after moving an accident victim March 10 who later tested positive. The city previously quarantined six other firefighters. As of Friday, nearly a week after their potential exposure, the six still didn’t know whether they’d contracted it.

Three residents of the town of Palm Beach have been confirmed with the virus.

Others in Palm Beach County include the 6-year-old student, who attends Del Prado Elementary School west of Boca Raton; a member of the Hunters Run Country Club in suburban Boynton Beach; a resident of Majestic Isles west of Boynton Beach; and a patient of the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach who is quarantined at home.

On the Treasure Coast, St. Lucie County reported its first case Saturday, becoming the 41st county in the state with an infection. It now has three. Martin County has two cases and Indian River County has eight.