Calls for return to lockdown grow in coronavirus-slammed Florida

Miami, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- An increasing number of people in Florida are advocating the reimposition of coronavirus pandemic restrictions in the Sunshine State, where the Covid-19 death toll topped 4,800 on Friday as the number of confirmed cases reached 327,241.

The virus has spread at an explosive rate in Florida since the state began the second phase of re-opening a month ago.

Florida has emerged as the active center of Covid-19 in the United States, which leads the world in both cases, 3.53 million, and fatalities, 138,000.

Of the two states that lead Florida in infections and deaths, New York’s figures have been on a declining trajectory for weeks and authorities reported 10 additional fatalities on Friday, compared with a record 156 here in the nation’s third-most-populous state, which recently set a new single-day mark for new cases with 15,300.

Within Florida, the three southeastern counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach together account for more than a third of all cases and half of the deaths.

This week, the Center for Public Integrity, a news organization based in Washington, released an unpublished document from the White House coronavirus task identifying 18 states as being in the “red zone” for Covid-19 cases, defined as more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week.

A second, broadly overlapping “red zone” comprises 11 states where more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive for the presence of the virus.

Florida, one of 10 states that appear on both lists, has 308 confirmed infections for every 100,000 residents – compared with a national median of 119 – and a test positivity of 11.3 percent.

The World Health Organization has advised governments to make the lifting of lockdowns contingent on lowering the test positivity rate to 5 percent or lower for 14 days.

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has taken his cues on handling the pandemic from President Donald Trump.

Instead of imposing statewide mask-wearing orders or other restrictions, the governor has left it up to officials at the county and municipal level to decide on what steps to take within their respective jurisdictions.

On Friday, 12 of the 13 Democrats who represent the state in the US House of Representatives sent DeSantis a letter asking him “to finally take strong action to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Florida,” according to The Miami Herald, which obtained a copy of the text.

“We ask that you immediately impose a statewide mask order and stay-at-home orders recommended by public health officials in parts of the state where the outbreak is raging,” the lawmakers wrote.

“By failing to reopen our state in the safe, smart, and step-by-step manner that you promised, and by ignoring (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) gating criteria, our state may be forced into a statewide economic shutdown, either by your order or simply because Floridians and visitors do not feel safe,” the missive said.

One of the signatories, Rep. Donna Shalala of Miami, was secretary of Health and Human Services during the 1993-2001 administration of President Bill Clinton.

“Do your job, governor. Protect the people of Florida,” Shalala said Friday in a tweet.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who had the coronavirus, was set to meet Friday with area business leaders to discuss how a second shutdown would damage the economy of the Magic City.

In neighboring Broward, County Commissioner Steve Geller said that hospitals were facing a crisis “because all of these stupid people who insist it’s nothing worse than the flu are wrong.”

“The flu doesn’t fill our intensive-care units,” he said.

Geller, who is also the county’s vice-mayor, said he was “angry because I am trying to prevent shutting down the businesses, which would be devastating. If we shut down the business community again, a lot of those businesses will never reopen.”

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