Florida reported a record 21,683 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, making the Southeastern U.S. state the national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The state’s previous record was 19,334 cases reported on January 7, before vaccinations had become widely available, according to federal health data, The Associated Press reported.
Florida, with a population of nearly 21.5 million people, now accounts for about one-fifth of all new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., the CDC said. The state had reported about 17,000 new cases on Friday, the same day state Governor Ron DeSantis barred schools from requiring that students wear masks when they return to in-person classes in August.
AdventHealth, one of the state’s largest health care systems, said on Friday that its Central Florida Division would not perform nonemergency surgeries in an effort to conserve resources because of the increase in COVID-19 patients in the region.
Since the start of the pandemic, Florida has recorded 2.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 39,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
The cruise ship industry, which is a big part of Florida’s tourism industry, was hit hard when the pandemic began in early 2020. On Saturday, the Carnival Cruise Line's Mardi Gras ship was to set sail from Port Canaveral, Florida, the first ship since March 2020.
The ship, planning a seven-day voyage to the Caribbean, was running at just 70% of its normal 5,282-passenger capacity.
The pandemic forced cruise lines to suspend trips leaving from U.S. ports. Carnival Cruise Line is requiring — at least for its July and August voyages — that 95% of its passengers and crew be vaccinated, according to the AP.
A day earlier, Royal Caribbean announced that six passengers — four fully vaccinated adults and two unvaccinated minors — had tested positive for COVID-19. All six were Americans, Royal Caribbean spokesperson Lyan Sierra-Caro told the AP. She said the six, who were not all traveling together, had disembarked in Nassau, the Bahamas, after a seven-day cruise. Royal Caribbean planned to fly the six back to the U.S. on private transportation, Sierra-Caro said, according to the AP.
Florida also is home to several major theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld. On Saturday, Universal and SeaWorld began asking guests to wear masks indoors. Universal also is requiring employees to wear masks while indoors and to practice social distancing protocols.
“The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority,” Universal said in a statement.
On Friday, the Walt Disney Co. started requiring employees and guests older than 2 to wear masks indoors and on Disney transportation and said it would be requiring all salaried and nonunion employees who work at its properties in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated. As of now, face coverings are not required outdoors at the parks.
Those Disney employees who are unvaccinated will have 60 days to receive the shots.
Across the country, the state of Arizona, in the U.S. Southwest, is dealing with a worsening outbreak caused by the delta variant of the coronavirus, as well as low vaccination rates in the state, health officials said.
"Unlike last summer when we were headed into school w/ declining rates, the match has been lit and the kindling is aflame this time," Dr. Joe K. Gerald, a University of Arizona researcher who tracks COVID-19 data, said on Twitter, according to AP.
The state reported more than 2,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for the first time in nearly five months, according to an AP report. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients topped 1,000 for a third straight day as well, according to officials.
Arizona, with a population of 7.2 million, has reported 925,169 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18,224 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.
The CDC also reported that as of Saturday, the U.S. had distributed 400.6 million vaccine doses and had administered 345.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which include the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson.
More than 190.8 million people had received at least one dose of the vaccine, while more than 164.4 million had been fully vaccinated as of Saturday.
As of Saturday, 197.7 million cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 4.2 million deaths had been recorded globally, according to Johns Hopkins. The U.S. led the world in number of COVID-19 cases, with nearly 35 million, and related deaths, 613,113, according to the university.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.