‘COVID is not a joke’: Florida reports highest number of new infections since Sept. 1

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Gary Johnson reached out to 8 On Your Side as he continues recovering from COVID-19.

“I have scarring on my lungs caused by COVID,” Johnson said. “So, I’m just here to say COVID is not a joke.”

The 62-year-old said he is convinced he contracted the virus in September visiting his 86-year-old father at a Tampa Bay hospital.

“I am so thankful for the nurses and the doctors where my father is at that I haven’t lost him,” Johnson said. “I’m thankful that I haven’t even lost myself.”

Johnson said his brutal symptoms included a fever over 100 degrees and the loss of taste, smell, and appetite.

He stresses the need to quarantine when exposed because he said he tested negative before falling very ill a few days later.

Instead of going home to Orlando, Johnson said he isolated for two weeks at his dad’s house in Brandon.

“I had a place to go where I wouldn’t infect my wife,” he explained. “She’d had breast cancer two years ago, I can’t afford to take a chance with her.”

On Sunday, the Florida Department of Health reported more than 6,800 new cases of coronavirus, marking the highest single-day increase since Sept. 1.

The percent positive rate was just above 6 percent, which follows a rate of greater than 8 percent in Saturday’s report which was the highest since Aug. 16.

Florida is on pace to hit a million coronavirus infections before Christmas.

As the executive director of Families for Better Care, a national advocacy non-profit focused on nursing homes, Brian Lee closely keeps track of COVID-19 cases in facilities caring for the most vulnerable in Florida.

“Right now it’s trending higher again and I think that’s a reflection from what’s going on in the state,” Lee told 8 On Your Side.

In updated guidance on the limited reopening of long term care facilities, the state is allowing residents to leave for holidays and overnight visits.

Lee told 8 On Your Side the policy is dangerous as the state’s positivity rate is rising.

“Once (the virus) gets into these facilities, it spreads likes wildfire,” Lee said. “More people, residents and staff become infected and more people die.”

Lee said it is important for residents returning to long term care facilities to get tested because catching an infection could prevent an outbreak.

The state’s guidance encourages facilities to test returning residents and to quarantine any who are exhibiting symptoms.

“Many individuals who contract COVID-19 may not display symptoms or test positive for several days after exposure, so it is still critical to diligently follow infection control precautions for residents returning from an absence including wearing a mask, hand washing, and social distancing,” a document from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration said.

Heading into the holiday season, Johnson said families should be cautious and careful about the decisions they make.

“Maybe everybody who is going to Thanksgiving dinner at their family’s house, maybe five days before they all get a covid test and if they come up negative, you have a good time with your family,” Johnson said.

Nationwide, the United States surpassed 10 million cases and 239-thousand deaths on Sunday, according to NBC News.

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