DeSantis celebrates arrival of vaccine as Florida passes 20,000 coronavirus deaths

“This is a game-changer,” DeSantis said. “It’s a great day for the United States. It’s a great day for the state of Florida.”

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click to enlarge DeSantis celebrates arrival of vaccine as Florida passes 20,000 coronavirus deaths
Photo via @GovRonDeSantis/Twitter

As Gov. Ron DeSantis and health officials celebrated the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Florida reported that more than 20,000 residents have died from the disease, offering a sobering reminder of its continuing toll.

With 137 additional resident deaths reported Monday, the total jumped to 20,003 since the start of the pandemic, according to a report from the Florida Department of Health. Also, 268 non-residents have died in Florida.

The updated numbers were released hours after DeSantis held a news conference at Tampa General Hospital to tout the arrival of the first doses of a Pfizer vaccine and to witness the inoculation of a registered nurse at the hospital.

“This is a game-changer,” DeSantis said. “It’s a great day for the United States. It’s a great day for the state of Florida.”

But while the state plans to move quickly to vaccinate front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, COVID-19 continues to tear through Florida --- and many other parts of the country --- and it could be months before many members of the public can get shots.

Florida has seen a soaring number of cases and deaths this fall. On Sept. 14, for example, it reported 665,730 total cases and 12,642 resident deaths. On Monday, it reported 1,134,383 total cases and 20,003 resident deaths --- translating to a 70 percent increase in cases and a 58 percent increase in deaths during the past three months.

Miami-Dade County had 4,002 resident deaths as of Monday. That was more than the deaths in 25 states, according to a Johns Hopkins University website that compiles pandemic numbers from across the country.

Neighboring Broward and Palm Beach counties have combined for another 3,521 deaths, the Department of Health report shows.

Also hard-hit in Florida have been long-term care facilities, which have had 7,745 reported deaths of residents and staff members. The overwhelming majority of those deaths have involved residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as the virus attacks seniors and people with underlying medical conditions.

Overall, 16,535 of the Florida resident deaths as of Monday involved people age 65 or older --- a nearly 83 percent rate that has remained relatively constant throughout the pandemic.

As the number of cases have surged in Florida this fall, more COVID-19 patients also have required hospitalization. The Agency for Health Care Administration reported Monday afternoon that 4,932 patients were hospitalized because of “primary” diagnoses of COVID-19, compared to 2,637 on Sept. 14.

Amid the increasing numbers, DeSantis and other officials who gathered for the news conference Monday at Tampa General Hospital pointed to vaccines as key to beating back COVID-19 and returning to a sense of normalcy. Tampa General received 20,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday and began vaccinating hospital workers.

“This is 20,000 doses of hope,” Tampa General President and CEO John Couris said. “This is the beginning to the end. This is monumental, if you are sitting in our shoes caring for the patients.”

--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.

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