TAMPA, Fla. — Exactly nine months after Florida’s first COVID-19 case was publicly known, the state has now surpassed 1 million total cases since the start of the pandemic.
Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health reported there were 1,008,166 total cases and more than 18,000 deaths total. The state accounts for more than 7% of the country’s total cases since the start of the pandemic.
“We’ve very upset about it, we have been so careful,” said Susan Perry.
Perry is a vice dean at the USF Health College of Nursing and a retired Air Force colonel, dealing with infection control.
“I’m also disturbed because the longer that we don’t get this under control, the more devastating effect it’s going to have long term on our economy, on our children, on our teachers, on grandparents,” she said.
Her family knows the impact of the virus first hand. In February, she and her husband, Anthony, traveled to Boston to watch their granddaughter play volleyball. Perry said they took precautions. However, Anthony fell ill.
“About six days later, Tony came down with body aches, a cough, a fever and it was COVID. And being one of the first cases in Florida and the first case in our county, there were no COVID tests so it was sort of a difficult time we had to take him to Tampa to get tested,” Perry said.
He ended up in the hospital in Leesburg for more than a week.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it. It was not a good experience. Unfortunately, when I did get it in March, little was known about the virus,” said Anthony Perry.
He said he dealt with pneumonia.
“I did have pneumonia and couldn’t take a deep breath, it was more short breaths than anything else and what I felt was that I needed to relax, I needed to take deeper breaths so what I did was I envisioned a path and on that path were a bunch of obstacles and I had to go around those obstacles to get a deep breath so I was able to relax and eventually I was able to take deeper breaths,” he said. “But it was kind of a labor just to get to that point to be able to take a deeper breath.”
Right now, cases are trending up in and the growth rate is accelerating in Florida, according to Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished university professor at USF’s College of Public Health and the co-director for the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the school.
He said right now Florida’s doubling rate of its daily case count is about 24 days.
“It’s a pretty significant number of people that have been infected now in the state obviously and those are of course only the ones that have been documented that have tested positive. Probably the actual number of people out there that have been infected is far higher than just one million people,” Unnasch said.
On the current trajectory, Unnasch said another 250,000 cases by Christmas. He said people need to avoid indoor spaces with large numbers of people, wash their hands and wear masks.
“We know what we need to do, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s gonna require some discipline and sacrifice, do the right thing over the holidays that are coming ahead but it’s really only for one year,” Unnasch said.
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is expected to receive an update on the virus Wednesday. According to the presentation documents, experts believe the resurgence could be due in part to a decrease in observing social measures and that ramping them up could significantly reduce community transmission.
Meanwhile, Governor Ron Desantis has been focusing on vaccines and has spoken out against any shutdowns.
“I think personal mitigation that individuals have done, have been effective. So, people that are higher risk, you'll make choices about avoiding those situations that may be more conducive to viral spread,” Desantis said, adding he believes business closures haven’t worked to stop the virus’ spread.
Now the virus is impacting hundreds of thousands of Floridians. People the Perry’s are urging to wear their masks and take precautions.
“We are so close,” said Susan Perry. “Even if you believe a mask is not going to protect you, what is the problem with trying it?“
“Be safe yourself and be safe for other people. Because it’s not just you you’ve gotta think of the other person,” said Anthony Perry.