MIAMI - Miami-Dade County has been dubbed the new epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. as cases surge throughout Florida, and a doctor at one of the state’s largest hospitals is sounding an alarm, comparing the current spike in cases in the county to the first known outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Miami-Dade County accounts for 24% of the state’s total cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, with a total of 75, 425 confirmed cases as of Friday.
The number of Florida resident deaths has reached 4,805, an increase of 128 since Thursday’s update. Another 107 non-Floridians have died in the state, according to the Florida Department of Health.
As of Friday, ICU bed capacity was at 118% of normal capacity, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The number of known cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 11,466 since Friday morning as the virus spread, and as more people were tested across the state. The total number of cases in Florida was above 327,000 on Friday afternoon, according to the state’s health department website.
The recent numbers mark the 45th straight day with new cases near or over 1,000 per day in Florida, according FOX 13 Tampa.
The rate of positive new tests has also increased during that time period, according to the most recent data available on the state’s health department website.
Florida has been averaging more than 100 new COVID-19 deaths per day over the last seven days, more than double the figure of two weeks ago. Doctors have predicted a surge in deaths as Florida’s daily reported cases have gone from about 2,000 a day a month ago to over 12,000.
“This spike in cases is like nothing we’ve seen before — not even in New York. Florida has been breaking New York numbers and breaking national records,” Rishi Rattan, a trauma surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, said.
Rattan said it is absolutely worrying to him, and the capacity at the hospital is in flux.
“The patients are coming almost as fast, if not faster than than we can build new spaces and new beds and new areas. So we are expanding the hospital, but every time we build an area, it quickly overflows,” Rattan said.
And as more beds fill to capacity, wait times to get a hospital bed are going to continue to increase.
Rattan said Jackson Memorial is one of the largest hospitals in the state, so they are fortunate to have a lot of space. But even the ample space the hospital does have is being stretched.
“We have entire wings of the hospital, entire building of the hospital, every single floor being COVID-19 patients,” Rattan added.
Despite the space, Rattan mentioned the crucial need for health care workers to be able to take care of all these patients, an additional strain for the hospital.
“At every level we’re really kind of bursting at the seams,” Rattan said.
Jackson Memorial has brought in nurses from outside of the state and outside of South Florida to help with the recent surge in cases.
Rattan said that the upswing in cases is not due to more testing.
“The positive cases here in Florida are rising faster than we’ve ever seen it throughout this entire pandemic. We’re getting tens of thousands of new infections daily and we know from all the reporting that this is not just due to more testing. We’ve done the statistics, we’ve looked at the facts. The actual infection is rising. The pandemic is spreading and it’s increasing faster than ever before,” Rattan said.
Rattan revealed that the uptick in cases has also increased the risk for its health care workers.
“Not only are we at max capacity of our health care workers and asking for more, we’re getting sick. My colleagues are getting sick with COVID and in the care of patients.
”Rattan said his team is noticing that survivors are dealing with long-term effects and a difficult time recovering from the virus. “Even if people survive and they were healthy before, they’re not surviving this in a healthy way and that’s very concerning,” Rattan said.
Rattan said one-in-four to one-in-five patients are experiencing long-term, serious side effects — including difficulty breathing and organ failure.
He said public health and policy experts could have predicted the surge in cases and should have seen it coming to Florida.
He added, “What I wish that government officials could do is work together. The first word in the United States is united. We are at war here against coronavirus, and when America has faced war before, we’ve all come together and been able to work as one nation.”
Rattan said that the country needs to continue following CDC guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks — something Americans can do to save each other’s lives.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said on Tuesday if all Americans wore a mask it could bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control in weeks.
“I think the data is clearly there, that masking works — whether it’s a face covering, whether it’s a simple surgical mask,” Redfield said.
The CDC director said if the American public embraced masking now and did it rigorously, the U.S. could see relatively swift changes in the trajectory of the pandemic.
“If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control,” Redfield said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams also said the U.S. could slow new novel coronavirus infections in two to three weeks if everyone does their part by following CDC guidelines, including mask wearing and social distancing.
A vaccine is essential, but it’s not going to come quickly enough, Rattan said, so Americans need to be following the guidelines.
“Right now we can help each other save lives, and right now I’m not convinced that everybody’s doing that. In fact, they’re not, and it’s very hurtful and frustrating to see, as a health care provider who’s coming into work everyday, and watching my colleagues and myself put our lives at risk trying to help people,” Rattan said.
Despite the sobering numbers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s response to COVID-19 and his efforts to reopen businesses amid the surge in cases during several appearance last week.
DeSantis stopped serving alcohol for on-site consumption at bars and nightclubs as part of an emergency order on March 20. This order was lifted on June 5 in all but South Florida, due to its high number of cases. This order was reimposed on June 26.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said last weekend the state isn’t changing a decision made last month to reimpose a ban on bars selling alcohol for on-site consumption because of widespread non-compliance with coronavirus safety measures.
DeSantis spoke to the media on Wednesday regarding the state’s response to COVID-19, and said he met with local officials in Miami-Dade on Tuesday.
“Miami is facing a tough a tough challenge in terms of some of the rates at which people have been testing positive, some of the emergency department visits, the hospital admissions, but I think working together on a local level, collaborating with the state, and then also working with our federal partners, we’ll be able to meet the challenge and my view is we’ll all work together and the state is going to continue to support the county as best we can," Desantis.
Dr. Lilian Abbo, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami, compared the situation in Miami to that of Wuhan, China, earlier in the pandemic, according to Newsweek.
"Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic. What we were seeing in Wuhan six months ago, five months ago, now we are there," Abbo said.
Rattan agreed. “I would say that Florida is already Wuhan, China,” he said. “We are already seeing numbers in capacity and density and stressing of the hospitals that we saw in Wuhan, that we’re seeing in Italy. Our numbers per day have broken records in New York.”
Last week, Florida saw the highest daily spike in coronavirus cases any state has experienced during the pandemic, with more than 15,000 confirmed in a single day, breaking a previous record set in New York.
The daily total in Florida accounted for nearly 25 percent of the new cases in the United States that day. The state accounts for around 6.5 percent of the nation's population.
Other states have moved to halt or reverse plans in which they were lifting restrictions. California has moved to reimpose a number of measures across the state to curb the renewed spread.
This week, several states reported increases in hospitalizations, leaving doctors concerned about the ability to treat enough patients.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three national forecasts suggest an increase in the number of new hospitalizations per day over the next four weeks, while three other forecasts predict stable numbers. By August 3, the forecasts estimate 2,000 to 10,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day.
The U.S. has seen more than 3.6 million confirmed cases since the outbreak began, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.