Florida's COVID-19 cases near record levels as nationwide death toll rising again

Despite reporting more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases Friday, the Sunshine State was still pushing ahead with plans to reopen Disney World.
A Disney employee runs a line to get in to the virtual queue for the World of Disney on the reopening day of the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim, Calif., on July 9, 2020.
A Disney employee runs a line to get in to the virtual queue for the World of Disney on the reopening day of the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim, Calif., on July 9, 2020.Jeff Gritchen / The Orange County Register via AP

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By Nigel Chiwaya and Corky Siemaszko

Mickey, Minnie and Goofy are going back to work Saturday as Disney World is pushing ahead with plans to reopen even as Florida continue to rack up a near-record number of new coronavirus cases.

The 11,433 new COVID-19 cases reported Friday was the state's biggest daily increase since July 3, when 11,458 cases were recorded. Additionally, the state health department reported 435 more hospitalizations — the state's largest single-day increase.

Florida also reported 93 additional deaths Friday, bringing the statewide COVID-19 death toll above 4,100.

Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told Variety the reopening of Disney World is a "terrible idea."

“There are several hospitals that are running out of beds in Florida, with health workers warning that there are not going to be enough ventilators and enough rooms, and cases in the state are breaking new records daily,” said Rimoin. “Moving forward with reopening, I think, is inviting disaster."

Disney furloughed 100,000 theme park and hotel workers, including cast members who play the beloved Walt Disney characters in Florida and elsewhere, back in April.

The move to allow people to return to the Magic Kingdom comes as the nationwide daily death toll from COVID-19 appears to be on the rise again, grim new NBC News numbers showed Friday.

There were 1,021 new deaths reported across the country on Thursday, the most since June 30, according to the figures.

Florida, with 120, was one of the five states accounting for more than half of Thursday's reported fatalities, an NBC News analysis revealed.

The other states reporting the most COVID-19 deaths were New Jersey with 142, California with 131, Texas with 111, and Arizona with 75. Also, 19 states have seen their two-week death totals increase by more than 20 percent in the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. appears to have set another unwanted record with more than 63,200 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, Johns Hopkins University is reporting.

That dismal new figure is higher than 56,667 new cases that NBC News, which has been compiling its own list of new cases and deaths since the pandemic started, tallied Friday.

But all that awful arithmetic was yet another reminder that the plague that President Donald Trump just a week ago predicted would “just disappear” continues to spread fast, especially in states like Texas, Florida and Arizona which reopened early and are now paying a steep price.

“We are living in the perfect storm,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a Financial Times interview published Friday.

“I think we have to realise that some states jumped ahead of themselves," Fauci said. "Other states did it correctly. But the citizenry didn’t listen to the guidelines and they decided they were going to stay in bars and go to congregations of crowds and celebrations.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed Fauci in an interview with MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle.

“People seem to have forgotten that COVID is very much part of our present,” Lightfoot said.

In other developments:

  • In Arizona, where 2,038 more deaths and 112,671 new cases were reported Thursday, the morgue in Phoenix was filling up with bodies so fast officials are trucking in refrigerated trailers to store more corpses. "So the Abrazo Health Care system has run out of morgue beds and the county is getting refrigerated trucks," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said on MSNBC.
  • In an all-too-rare rare show of bipartisanship, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, praised Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, for leading by example and wearing a mask during pubic appearances. "He is talking about wearing a mask, and for that, I’m really grateful," Beshear said on MSNBC. "He’s doing it in public, and for that, I’m really grateful. It shows that wearing a mask isn’t political at all." Beshear's mask-wearing mandate for Kentucky goes into effect on Friday evening. Mask-wearing has become deeply politicized with many Trump supporters following his example and refusing to wear them in public.
  • In Alabama, another state that has seen a rapid rise on cases, the leader of the state senate was catching flack for saying that it would be a good thing if more people caught COVID-19. “In fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity if more people have it and get through it,” Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, a Republican, said.

Herd immunity has been championed by a number of Republican politicians who argue that coronavirus lockdowns have been too strict. But most scientists say there is little evidence that it works. And Sweden, a nation of 10 million where this has been the strategy, has experienced 5,500 deaths. Sweden now has 55 cases per 100,000 people compared to the U.S., which has 41 per 100,000 people, according to an NBC News calculation.

Meanwhile, Texas was bracing for more pain The Lone Star state has already racked-up 239,657 cases and a death toll of 3,102, according to NBC News’ numbers from Thursday.

"I gotta tell you, I think the numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told KRIV-TV in Houston on Thursday.

Abbott, a Republican and Trump ally, has taken flak for reopening Texas for business as the number of coronavirus cases started to climb and for not insisting earlier that local authorities follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety recommendations like wearing masks while in public places.

Texas needs to reimpose another stay-at-home, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat whose district includes hard-hit Houston, said Friday.

"We opened a government here in Texas, too quickly," Lee told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "It was May 1st. We had not followed the CDC guidelines. Certainly we’re now working as a team. I appreciate what the state government is trying to do, Andrea, but we have 10,000 people in the hospital beds this week. We have people dying every day."

Among the new Texas cases are two stand-up comedians, Bryan Callen and Brendan Schaub, who tested positive for COVID-19 after performing last month in a San Antonio club.

"We should probably let everybody know that Brendan and I did everything wrong in Texas," Callen said on their podcast, The Fighter and the Kid. "We practiced no social distancing, got up in front of 350 people as they were laughing at us and shouting at us, and then when we got off stage — didn't change mics."