By JIM SAUNDERS
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE — With more than 1,000 reported deaths in less than two weeks, the number of Florida residents who have died of COVID-19 exceeded 21,000 on Saturday, according to the state Department of Health.
The department’s website showed 21,135 residents have died since the pandemic started. Also, 302 non-residents have died in Florida.
The number of resident deaths increased by 140 from a Thursday count, as the department did not release statistics on Christmas Day. Florida exceeded 20,000 reported resident deaths on Dec. 14, hitting 20,003 that day.
Deaths, positive cases and hospitalizations surged this fall and have continued into the early days of winter. As of Saturday, 1,264,588 people had tested positive since the pandemic started, an increase of 17,042 from Thursday.
The state Agency for Health Care Administration reported 5,647 people hospitalized Saturday with “primary” diagnoses of COVID-19, including 971 in Miami-Dade County. On Oct. 26, by comparison, 2,252 people were hospitalized with “primary” diagnoses of the disease, according to a daily tally by The News Service of Florida.
Elderly vaccinations a priority
Gov. Ron DeSantis and health officials during the past two weeks have touted the start of vaccinations that they hope will ultimately tame the pandemic. DeSantis has focused initially on vaccinating front-line health care workers and nursing home residents and will make a priority of giving shots to people 65 or older — the part of the population that has made up more than 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
“Our first priority for the general population, once the nurses, doctors and long-term care facilities are done, is to vaccinate people 65 and up,” DeSantis said Wednesday during a stop at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola.
But even among the targeted groups, immunization will be a gradual process. Through Wednesday, 93,077 people had been vaccinated in the state, with 13,134 people age 65 or older, state numbers show.
Also, the Florida Assisted Living Association on Wednesday sent a letter to DeSantis asking when residents of assisted living facilities and adult family care homes will start receiving vaccinations. The letter said the association represents more than 600 assisted living communities.
Florida has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths behind New York, Texas and California, according to a Johns Hopkins University website that tracks cases throughout the country.
— News Service staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this story.