Florida hospitals face ICU bed shortage as state passes 300,000 COVID-19 cases

More than 77,000 cases were logged just in the last seven days, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Image: Florida coronavirus
People arrive to be tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing site at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla., on Tuesday.Paul Hennessy / Sipa USA via AP

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By Nigel Chiwaya and Corky Siemaszko

Florida was running out of ICU beds at numerous hospitals Wednesday as COVID-19 cases continued to pile up by the tens of thousands and the Trump administration appeared powerless to stop it.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican who caught flak for posting a photo of himself eating with his kids in a crowded restaurant while COVID-19 was spreading through his state, announced Wednesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

The 67,507 new cases reported across the country Tuesday was the second highest daily number since the start of the pandemic, and states like Wisconsin (4,407), Nevada (1,104), Oklahoma (993) and Alaska (360) shattered their previous records for numbers of cases recorded in a single day.

The death toll nationwide as of Wednesday morning was 137,403 and climbing, with 3,454,352 cases reported, according to the latest NBC News tally.

Four states in particular — Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — continued to account for most of the new cases and deaths.

Florida, where the Republican convention is scheduled to be held next month, passed a dismal benchmark Wednesday with more than 300,000 cases of COVID-19 reported since the start of the pandemic.

More than 77,000 cases were logged just in the last seven days, bringing the total number in the state to 301,629, according to the Florida Department of Health.

There were also 112 more deaths, putting the state on track to hit 5,000 COVID-19 fatalities, the NBC News numbers showed.

Tuesday was the second deadliest day of the pandemic in Florida, with 133 fatalities — the most since July 1 when 145 were recorded, the new figures show.

Finding a bed for all those sick people became increasingly harder with the Agency for Health Care Administration reporting that 54 hospitals in the state now have zero available beds in their intensive care units and another 40 hospitals have less than 10 percent bed availability in their ICUs.

Ten of the hospitals where no ICU beds are left are in Miami-Dade, the most populous county in Florida and the state’s top coronavirus hotspot.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has taken heat for his handling of the crisis, stoked more anger recently by referring to the rising case numbers as a"blip."

In other developments:

  • President Donald Trump, who earlier this month predicted the plague would "just disappear," tried again to put a positive spin on the increasingly dire situation. "We’re doing well in a lot of ways, and our country is coming back very strong," Trump insisted before boarding Marine One Wednesday. "When you look at those job numbers -- we’ve never had job numbers like we have right now. So it’s coming back very strongly." Trump appeared to be referring to federal jobs figures released earlier this month which showed the U.S. economy in June clawed back 4.8 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost when the coronavirus crisis hit.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, defended himself amid the White House's attempts to discredit him, calling the attacks "bizarre" in an interview with The Atlantic. “Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci said this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.” An op-ed by Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, published Tuesday claimed Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on" (the White House later tried to distance itself from Navarro's column). Asked about Navarro, Fauci told the Atlantic, “I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself.”
  • Fauci got another shout-out of support from another powerful Republican. This time it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he had "total" confidence in Fauci. The doctor later appeared with Vice President Mike Pence at a Coronavirus Task Force meeting.
  • Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raised eyebrows by claiming that the surge of cases sweeping through the southern states may have been caused by northerners visiting over the Memorial Day weekend.“If you look at the South, everything happened around June 12 to June 16,” he said in an interview Tuesday with Dr. Howard Bauchner of The Journal of the American Medical Association. "It all simultaneously kind of popped." Redfield did not back his claim with any scientific data.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the Defense Department was sending reinforcements -- a U.S. Army Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force unit -- to the hard-hit Rio Grande Valley. There patients are being quarantined in local hotels to save on scarce hospital beds.

    "These teams, coupled with our newly established partnership with local hotels, will aid in our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure adequate hospital capacity in the Valley," Abbott said.

Back in Oklahoma, Stitt said during a news conference from his home that he received the diagnosis on Tuesday and that he feels a bit “achy” but otherwise fine. He said his wife and children tested negative.

A Trump ally, Stitt posted the photo in a March 14 tweet from his official Twitter account that has since been taken down.

Stitt, whose mantra was “business as usual” at the start of the pandemic, was at Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month where he was photographed not wearing a mask.

While Stitt gave no indication where he caught the bug, a number of Trump campaign staffers and others tested positive after attending the rally. And he said he has no plans to roll back Oklahoma's reopening.

“Going back and bunkering in place doesn’t remove” the virus, Stitt said. “It’s way, way premature to think of slowing down or backing up” the reopening.

Stitt's admission came on the same day that Oklahoma logged a single-day high 993 new coronavirus cases, the NBC News figures show. So far that state has reported a total of 428 deaths and 21,738 confirmed infections.

Medical experts say the main culprit behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases appear to be younger people who don’t wear masks in public or practice social distancing.

That appears to be the case in Ohio, a state led by a Republican governor who took decisive action to flatten the curve well before the White House did and then saw the number of new cases rise in quadruple digits after it reopened.

In a televised address to the state, Gov. Mike DeWine warned that if Ohio does not act now "Florida and Arizona will be our future."

"This is not a drill, this is certainly not any hoax," DeWine said. "I'm asking each of you, wherever you live, to wear a mask every time you go out in public."

Until now, DeWine had stopped short of issuing a state-wide mask-wearing directive, fearing push back from the GOP majority in the legislature that had resisted his moves to curb coronavirus by closing down Ohio.

"Sacrifice today for a better tomorrow," DeWine said. "This virus will end...and don't we all want to be around when it does?"

DeWine also voiced concern that meetups with friends and family could have dire consequences.

"Will the family reunion be worth it if your grandmother tests positive and dies? Will the neighborhood cookout be worth it if your neighbor ends up alone, on a ventilator, in the ICU? Will the play date be worth it, if the kids can’t go back to school in the fall?"

Ohio is not the only state where the new coronavirus patients are trending younger.

“We certainly have seen a shift,” Dr. Jeff Smith, chief operating officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told MSNBC. “Early on in March and April, during our earlier peaks, we were seeing patients primarily in their 80s and 90s who were very, very ill. Now the majority of our hospitalized patients are between ages 40 and 50.”

While these younger patients tend to recover faster, the concern is they could infect “younger populations, or vulnerable populations, and transmit to the sick and the elderly,” Smith said.