(TNS) - After a two-day lull, the number of reported deaths from COVID-19 soared on Tuesday with 247 new fatalities reported by the Florida Department of Health.
The deaths, including 16 in Palm Beach County, is the third highest reported on a single day since the pandemic began sweeping the state in March.
The new fatalities pushed the state's death toll to 7,526, including 876 in the county.
For the third day in a row, the number of new cases stayed at lower levels not seen since the infections began surging in early July.
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The state reported an additional 5,446 people had been diagnosed with the highly contagious respiratory disease. Other than Monday, when the number of new cases fell sharply, it is the lowest number of new infections reported on a single day since June 29.
With 497,330 people statewide diagnosed with the disease, by Wednesday it is likely that 500,000 people statewide will have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Only one other state, California, has surpassed a half-million cases. Only five countries, including the United States, have reported that many cases.
Palm Beach County mirrored the statewide trends. Other than Monday, the 379 new infections reported on Tuesday is the lowest number reported in the county since July 1 when 279 new cases were reported.
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Since March, 34,929 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the county.
Giving a regular briefing to the county commission, county health director Dr. Alina Alonso acknowledged that there are some positive signs. But, she said, the state and the county have a long way to go.
There are pockets in the county where people seems to be ignoring advice on how to contain the disease, she said.
Outbreaks continue to erupt along the Lake Worth corridor and in the Glades. She attributed them to large gatherings — birthday parties, weddings and barbecues in the Lake Worth area; block parties in Belle Glade and Pahokee.
"This is not the time to have parties," she said.
The number of people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 has fallen in recent days, said Bill Johnson, director of emergency management for the county. On average about 86 fewer people were hospitalized with the virus in the past week compared to two weeks ago, he said.
At the same time, the number of people in intensive care units has climbed slightly, increasing from a daily average of 137 two weeks ago to 139 this week, he said.
There were 7,729 people hospitalized statewide on Tuesday morning for treatment of COVID-19, including 554 in the county, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. About two weeks ago, roughly 9,500 people were hospitalized statewide, including as many as 660 in the county.
But, Alonso said, the percentage of people testing positive remains high. The positivity rate shows the prevalence of the virus in the community.
While the state has said it should be below 10%, ideally it should be below 5%, she said. Neither Florida nor the county is near those benchmarks, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said the disease was "at dangerous levels," because the positivity rates remain high in communities throughout the country, she said.
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With the disease spreading rapidly, there is no way to stop the spread through contact tracing, she said. By the time people are warned that they have been exposed, they have become infected and likely infected others.
The percentage of people testing positive statewide crept up to 10.88%. While it increased slightly in the county, Tuesday marked the seventh straight day it remained below 10%.
However, she said, the overall positivity rate, which is higher, is also an important gauge of the spread of the disease.
Statewide, 13.1% of the nearly 3.8 million people tested have learned they have the disease. In the county, where 265,000 tests have been conducted, 13% came back positive.
Alonso embraced an analogy that is being used by the Palm Beach County Medical Association in public service announcements to get people to follow social distancing guidelines.
In the media campaign, county doctors compare the pandemic to the Titanic. If people wear masks, practice proper hygiene, avoid crowds and engage in social distancing, the ship won't hit the iceberg and lives will be saved, they said.
"I really like the analogy of the Titanic," Alonso said. "We're not going to sink. We're going to get through this."
But, she said, everyone has to do their part.
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