STATEWIDE — Florida shattered its record of new coronavirus cases by thousands Friday as the state took steps to mitigate the rapid spread of the virus by banning the drinking of alcohol at bars statewide.

The Florida Department of Health reported Friday that there were 8,942 new positive cases, 39 new deaths and 212 hospitalizations.

The state's positivity rate for Thursday was 13.05 percent, the Health Department said.

Orange County saw its biggest jump yet at 1,062 new cases. Polk County reported 209 cases, while Seminole County was close at 198. Deaths occurred in Orange, Pinellas, and Polk counties, among several others. 

In response to the recent surge in infections, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Friday suspended the drinking of alcohol at bars statewide.



Dr. Sajid Chaubhary, an infectious disease specialist in Kissimmee, says the new ban should help slow the spread, but he wishes it were implemented earlier. He's also concerned about other public places as well.

“I think they should look at the other places also, wherever in the public places where people can come in contact with each other, because 30% of the people, they will be asymptomatic," Chaubhary told Spectrum News.  

This was the biggest one-day jump yet for the Sunshine State. The Health Department reported on Wednesday that there were 5,511 new cases — a record at the time —and Thursday's reported numbers were 5,004.

Dr. Chaubhary worries what the surge in COVID-19 cases will look like if the state doesn’t take more action. 

“It can be devastating for the hospitals, it can choke the hospital. Right now, as I said initially, we are unable to entertain everybody in the hospital,” he said. 

At a news conference Friday from Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, Gov. Ron DeSantis held firm to his opinion that a statewide face-covering order wasn't needed because it's best handled at the county and city level. Local municipalities in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay areas have imposed their own mask rules.

He also said that despite the sharp rise in numbers over the past month — which he maintained was due to broader testing from expanding it to asymptomatic people —"we're in a much better position to handle what comes down the pike," because "PPE is in a much better shape today than March and April," he said.

"When we started this in March, we wanted to flatten the curve and help the health care system, and Florida was able to do that. When you flatten the curve, you don't have less infections, you just allow the system to handle it," DeSantis said.

He urged younger people to wear masks to avoid spreading the disease to their older family members and others who have underlying medical conditions. 

AdventHealth doctors told Spectrum News that despite seeing an all-time high in hospitalizations, they're prepared to handle the increase.

"We've got enough personal protective equipment, we have the staff, we have the hindsight in having taken care of COVID patients. So we know what to expect, but of course, we want to do what we can in the community to keep these cases as low as possible," said Dr. Vincent Hsu, an infection control officer at AdventHealth.

The hospital chain said that for right now, death rates are not rising rapidly.

Meanwhile, in Hillsborough County Emergency Management said its caseload for the coronavirus has increased by more than 60 percent, and of those, 61 percent of patients are younger than 35.

Doctors underscore that wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and hand washing are essential to stopping the spread of infections.

Fired Dashboard Creator Speaks Out Again

The fired former Florida Department of Health official behind the state's COVID-19 dashboard is speaking out again after releasing her own dashboard tracking Florida's cases.

The agency fired Rebekah Jones, she says because the department asked her to change data. The state refutes that claim.

Jones's personal dashboard shows a positive COVID-19 case count much higher than the official one from the Department of Health.

In an interview with CNN, Jones said all of her information comes from the state's dashboard. She counts non-Florida resident deaths, which the state does not.

She told CNN that's a mistake.

"This is not just people being attributed to the wrong state. These are people who got sick and died here in a Florida hospital," Jones said. "They're not people who got sick and then went home to Massachusetts and died. I think that people care more about where the virus is in their community then they do whether or not somebody has a permanent legal address in Florida."

Jones said she also counts people who tested positive for antibodies, which the state doesn't.