Half of Coronavirus Infections in Florida Involve People 60 or Older

The state announced the case total had risen to 192, including 173 Floridians, and that a sixth person had died at a Broward County assisted living facility. A full breakdown of new cases wasn’t immediately available.

by Zachary T. Sampson, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. / March 17, 2020
Dr. Ilene Robeck, right, 69, speaks to a small group about the recent coronavirus outbreak last Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic - Health Center. TNS

(TNS) — Florida health officials as of Monday night had tracked 160 known cases of coronavirus, including 18 visitors isolated in the state and six Floridians who were diagnosed elsewhere.

The state early Tuesday announced the case total had risen to 192, including 173 Floridians, and that a sixth person had died, a 77-year-old man who had been at a Broward County assisted living facility. A full breakdown of those new cases was not immediately available, leaving the Monday night report as the fullest picture to date of the spread of the disease here.

Half of the 160 people are 60 or older, in an age range that doctors consider to be more at risk to severe symptoms from the disease. The Department of Health lists 24 of the patients as between 70 and 79 years old and another nine as 80 or older.

Men account for 90 cases, women 70.

The numbers make clear just how vulnerable Florida is to an outbreak of coronavirus compared to other parts of America. It has a greater share of residents in their 70s, 80s or older than any other state. The disease, known as COVID-19, causes symptoms including cough and shortness of breath and can lead to severe respiratory infections, especially in elderly people and those with chronic health trouble.

"The eye of this storm is disproportionately focused on our most vulnerable,” said Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, specifically referencing the “elderly and medically frail.”

As such, the state instituted a month-long ban on nearly all visitors to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The tally of coronavirus cases is assuredly an undercount for the true prevalence of the illness. Limited early testing, a problem across the country, means the United States does not have a comprehensive accounting of infections. Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said that some people might be carrying the disease without suffering severe symptoms, especially younger individuals who might not seek testing.

The biggest share of Florida’s known cases to date tie to Broward County — 47 patients, or 29 percent. Miami-Dade is connected to another 25 cases, including one person isolated outside of Florida, according to the Department of Health.

In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough has five cases, Pinellas has four and Pasco has two. Those cases include patients who traveled to Colorado, New York, Ireland, Egypt and Italy. According to the latest state data, the case of a 17-year-old boy in Hillsborough County and a 58-year-old man in Pinellas County did not, as of Monday, have clear ties to travel or other people infected with the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when patients do not know how they might have come into contact with the coronavirus, that is a sign of “community spread."

The state reported that visits to emergency departments from people reporting a cough have ticked up for the past two weeks.

Testing has also increased as private labs and hospitals obtain equipment to become more involved.

The state reported 426 tests in Broward, including 226 that have not returned a result yet.

Hillsborough had as of Monday reported 57 tests, including 19 awaiting a result; Pinellas had 102 tests including 65 awaiting a result; and Pasco had 24 tests including seven awaiting a result. Hernando County had three tests awaiting a result and no positive cases.

With private providers like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp now running samples, the state said there might be a delay in reporting some results.

The majority of tests to date, as reported by the Department of Health, have gone through three state health laboratories in Miami (458), Jacksonville (301) and Tampa (292).

Times/Herald staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

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