FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - Florida passed the 300,000 mark of confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday and reported more than 100 daily deaths for the third time in a week, prompting state Democratic leaders to accuse Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of not acting aggressively enough to stem the virus.
"There is failed leadership in the governor's office," state Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson said during an online news conference shortly after health officials reported 10,181 new confirmed cases. The new report brought the total number of confirmed cases to 301,810 since the outbreak began in the state March 1.
The state recorded 112 deaths Wednesday, the third time in the past seven days it has reported more than 100 - a mark that had been topped only once before last week. The state has now recorded 4,626 COVID-19 deaths.
Florida's rolling seven-day average for deaths is now 92 per day, triple the 31 posted a month ago, just before the toll began creeping up and then exploding last week. Hospitals reported Wednesday morning that they were treating 8,276 coronavirus patients, a jump of 84 from Tuesday. As of Tuesday, Florida had the No. 2 death rate in country, slightly behind Texas, which has 25% more residents.
The governor's "hands-off approach is not working," Gibson said. "He's losing the war against the pandemic, and that means the people of the state of Florida are losing the war against the pandemic."
'Going to get worse'
Democratic Senator Oscar Braynon warned that DeSantis' failure to act could lead to reclosing the state's economy, which would prolong the economic misery that has gripped much of the state.
"It's only going to get worse," he said. Republicans outnumber Democrats 23-17 in the Senate.
DeSantis has defended his coronavirus response. He frequently cites his decision in early March to ban nursing home visitations, saying it saved lives compared with New York, where 700 per day were dying in April. He also says his close relationship with President Donald Trump has gotten Florida needed equipment, drugs and support.
Still, he has been criticized for refusing to issue a statewide order requiring masks in public places. He says that should be left to local officials because some counties, such as Miami-Dade, are more hard hit than more rural, less populated counties, which have few cases. Several counties and cities now require masks.
During a state school board meeting Wednesday, DeSantis reiterated his education commissioner's decision to reopen Florida's schools next month, saying children are highly unlikely to become seriously ill from coronavirus and don't frequently pass the virus to others.
He did say that precautions need to be taken to protect teachers and other adult staff, and that online classes need to remain available for children whose parents want them to stay home. Florida's schools closed in mid-March.
"It would be foolish not to listen to the parents," the governor said.
The Democrats called on DeSantis to not push for schools to reopen.
"We cannot even control an outbreak of lice in our schools, so how are we going to control not spreading this virus?" Senator Janet Cruz asked.
Running out of hospital beds
Meanwhile, some hospitals say they are running out of beds, particularly in South Florida. Dr. Nicholas Namias, chief of trauma and surgical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, one of the state's largest, said converting regular rooms into COVID-19 rooms requires them to have negative airflow to prevent the virus' spread. Barring that, hospitals at least need to have the capability to isolate patients.
"We're getting to the point where it's going to be full," Namias said. "We have gridlock and we won't be able to take patients and they'll just be stacked in the ERs."
Also Wednesday, Walt Disney World reopened its Epcot and Hollywood Studios theme parks. Disney's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened Saturday. The parks were the last of Orlando's major parks to reopen after being shuttered since March. Both Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando opened last month.
All parks are capping attendance, requiring reservations and checking the temperatures of all employees and guests. Masks are being required.
In Broward County, former Sheriff Scott Israel, who is running to get his job back, announced Wednesday that he has been hospitalized with the coronavirus. DeSantis removed Israel from office in January 2019, saying his actions and decisions failed to keep Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students safe before and during a February 2018 mass shooting that left 17 dead.
Israel, 64, said he is optimistic about recovering from the virus. He is running against DeSantis' hand-picked successor, Sheriff Gregory Tony.