TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida became the third state in the nation to surpass one million total cases of coronavirus on Tuesday.
In its daily coronavirus update for Dec. 1, the Florida Department of Health reported 8,847 new cases for a total of 1,008,166 cumulative cases in the state since the beginning of the pandemic.
California and Texas are the only other states to have reached the grim 1 million cases milestone. California, Texas and Florida are also the most populous states in the country. Government data estimates Florida had a population of more than 21 million people in 2019. New York has the fourth-highest population and, as of Tuesday, reported a total of 655,265 positive cases since the pandemic started.
Florida reported its first cases of coronavirus – both from the Tampa Bay area – in March. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order one month later to help flatten the curve. Students across the state finished their school year online, a move that Gov. DeSantis has since called “probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history.”
In the months that followed, the state proceeded with a phased reopening plan, which was followed by a spike in cases in the summer months.
DeSantis moved forward with the third phase of reopening in September, effectively lifting most restrictions the state had put in place. When the state entered Phase 3, DeSantis said Florida would not close anything moving forward.
“We’re going to be able to host the Super Bowl in February. We expect to do a full Super Bowl. We’re going to show that we’re going to be able to do that,” DeSantis said in September.
Throughout the pandemic, the governor resisted calls to implement a statewide mask mandate. Instead, DeSantis said he would trust Floridians to be responsible and make good decisions.
DeSantis echoed that message again this week, as cases continue to climb in Florida and across the country. During his first public news conference in nearly a month, the governor said Florida will stay open without a mask mandate.
His firm stance against lockdowns, mask mandates and closing schools comes as a wave of new coronavirus restrictions sweeps the nation. Dr. Tom Unnasch, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Florida, told 8 On Your Side last week he worries that Florida practicing business-as-usual could create a false sense of security.
“The ship is headed for the rocks and it doesn’t appear that the captain is interested in taking the helm,” he said.
Unnasch believes a slight scale back, similar to Florida’s “phase two” of reopening that included reduced capacity or hours at restaurants and bars, could do the trick to slow the spread to a manageable level.
When Florida reopened in September, part of the order barred local governments from adopting and enforcing restrictions they saw fit. A group of Florida mayors, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, are now lobbying the governor to rescind that.
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