TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Health reported a record daily number of Covid-19 diagnoses, which Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday said was the result of outbreaks among farming communities and increased statewide testing.
The state Department of Health reported that 1,677 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of positive tests since the state reported its first case March 1. The previous record was the 1,527 cases reported on April 3, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
A POLITICO analysis shows the state has averaged 1,098 positive test results a day since May 28, which was two weeks after DeSantis began allowing restaurants and nonessential stores to open for business on May 4. Bars, theme parks, and other gathering spots in Florida began to reopen June 5.
Speaking to reporters in Melbourne on Thursday, DeSantis said the state was seeing outbreaks in the agricultural communities of Collier, Martin and Palm Beach counties. More than 50 percent of farmworkers in those areas are testing positive. Many of them are young and less vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus, DeSantis said.
“The good news is they’re low-risk workers in terms of their health, so the clinical consequences is very small,” DeSantis said.
The positive rate in Collier County was 10.2 percent, almost double the state’s 5.6 percent rate of positive tests. Most of the Collier County cases were in Immokalee, an unincorporated farming community about 50 miles northeast of Naples. The area is home to dozens of farms growing cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes with help from thousands of migrant workers.
DeSantis also attributed the increase to people who are returning to work as the state seeks to get its economy running again. Employers are asking workers to get tested, and that has led to more diagnoses, DeSantis said.
“Employers have told those folks they should get tested, so you’re seeing a younger demographic,” DeSantis said, adding about 98 percent of those tests are negative.
“You will see some cases but fortunately, those usually don’t have any clinical consequences,” he said.
Coronavirus cases have popped up in rural communities across the U.S., including in agricultural operations.
Florida also is testing thousands of people every day, with plans to open more testing sites on beaches around South Florida. DeSantis estimated that about 30,000 people are tested every day. The Department of Health report showed more than 57,000 people were tested on June 6.
“As you test more you’re going to find more cases,” DeSantis said. “We expected this from the beginning.”
Florida’s rate of positive cases as of Thursday was 5.3 percent, down from the 5.6 percent reported Wednesday, according to department data.
A comparison of the seven-day average rate of positive tests by Johns Hopkins shows Florida is within a 5 percent threshold recommended by the World Health Organization. As of Thursday, the state’s average of positive results was 4.34 percent.
New York, once considered the nation’s hot zone for Covid-19, was at 1.38 percent during that week, according to the Johns Hopkins site.
Johns Hopkins data has showed skyrocketing positive test rates in 19 states, including Arizona, which was at 13.81 percent as of Thursday. The increase in cases prompted the state to activate hospital emergency plans.