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In Miami-Dade, coronavirus deaths spike but hospitals aren’t swamped yet by patients

Miami-Dade still accounts for a third of Florida’s coronavirus cases and saw deaths from the virus spike over the weekend. But new figures from the state and county show hospitals aren’t yet swamped with COVID-19 patients.

A day after Mayor Carlos Gimenez used emergency powers to order hospitals to report COVID-19 metrics twice a day, a county survey showed most ventilators and intensive-care beds remain available for a future surge.

With more than 400 people admitted for COVID-19, hospitals Miami News responding to the Miami-Dade survey said less than 25 percent of their intensive-care beds and ventilators were in use over the weekend. State figures released Sunday showed about 6 percent of Miami-Dade’s COVID-19 cases resulted in hospital stays, compared to 13 percent across Florida.

Carlos Migoya, CEO of the county-funded Jackson hospital system, said supplies and resources aren’t a problem now but that the true strain of coronavirus isn’t easy to predict.

Sunday’s report from Florida showed Miami-Dade with 4,103 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus. That’s more than double the No. 2 finisher to the north, Broward County, with 1,842 cases.

The numbers took a graver turn for Miami-Dade when a Sunday report from the county’s Emergency Operations Center reported 54 deaths, up nearly 75 percent from Saturday’s count of 31 deaths.

Broward and Miami-Dade lead the state in deaths at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, with 41 and 40 cases respectively. On Sunday, Florida’s Department of Veteran Affairs announced a resident veteran at a Pembroke Pines nursing home had died from complications tied to COVID-19.

The deceased veteran, who was not identified, was one of two men living at the nursing home for veterans in Pembroke Pines who were hospitalized last month after they tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. They were transferred to a local hospital.

The two residents at the Alexander Nininger State Veterans Nursing Home were tested after they showed signs of low-grade fever, according to officials. They have been the only veterans at the state’s seven veterans nursing home and domiciliary facilities known to have contracted the disease.

One of South Florida’s most high-profile coronavirus cases, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, announced Sunday that he had recovered from the disease and was now free to leave quarantine and be with his family.

“Though still a bit weak, I feel well,” the Miami Republican wrote on Twitter. Like Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who also tested positive for COVID-19, Diaz-Balart said he’s applied to donate plasma as part of a Red Cross program for potential treatments using antibodies from people who have recovered from the disease.

Coronavirus fears also upended standard practices at Monroe County’s jail system and had Zoo Miami keeping staff even farther away from tigers.

In Key West, the Monroe County detention center abruptly severed its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sending 48 detainees north to a federal facility in Miami-Dade over the weekend. The move, designed to shield regular Monroe County inmates from potential COVID-19 exposure from a larger population, ended nearly 23 years of the county government renting space to federal authorities to hold suspected immigration offenders.

At Zoo Miami, news of a COVID-19 infection in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo brought more urgency for existing precautions to keep big cats separated from human caretakers who may be unwittingly carrying the virus.

Last week, the county-owned zoo in South Dade “severely restricted any face-to-face encounters with any of our big cats, as it was recently discovered that in a lab situation, domestic cats could contract the virus,” said zoo spokesman Ron Magill. “Having said that, we have an advantage over the Bronx Zoo in that our tigers are never indoors so there is less concentration of the surrounding air where the virus can linger.”

Spreading the virus through the air has long been a top concern for humans. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday changed guidance and Press Release Distribution Services In Miami began recommending people wear face coverings when they can’t stay at least six feet apart from other people.

That prompted a new emergency order from Gimenez over the weekend that “encouraged” people to wear face coverings, including masks, when “outside their homes.”

In his interview, Migoya said he was confident the business and public space closures ordered by Gimenez in recent weeks will lead to fewer coronavirus cases at Jackson and other hospitals than otherwise would have arrived without social-distancing measures. Even so, Migoya said he did have concerns about ventilator availability across Miami-Dade.

“The only challenge we have is with ventilators,” he said. “We want to make sure we have enough ‘vents,’ so if any of our hospitals need them, we can move them around.”

The county survey circulated by Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon showed about 700 ventilators in inventory, with more than double that available from the equipment on standby from the state and converting respirators and anesthesia equipment.

In a statement, Jackson said the public hospital had “amply capacity” today for ICU beds and ventilators, whether for COVID-19 cases or other needs. But Jackson said more ventilators may be needed to meet COVID-19 demands across the county in the coming weeks.

“Across Miami-Dade, we think it would be wise to pursue additional ventilator supplies in case of an extreme surge,” the statement said.

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