Florida reported 21,683 new cases of Covid-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to federal health data released on Saturday, as its theme park resorts again started asking visitors to wear masks indoors.
The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the US as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads.
Republican governor Ron DeSantis has resisted mask mandates and vaccine requirements and along with the state legislature has limited local officials’ ability to impose restrictions meant to stop the spread of Covid-19. On Friday DeSantis barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month.
The latest numbers were recorded on Friday and released on Saturday on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
The figures show how quickly cases are rising: only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases. The previous peak had been 19,334 cases reported on 7 January, before vaccinations became widespread.
The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since March 2020. The peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalizations by a few weeks.
DeSantis has blamed the surge on a seasonal increase – more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus. About 60% of Floridians 12 and older are vaccinated, ranking it about midway among the states.
The Florida Hospital Association said statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations are nearing last year’s peak, and one of the state’s largest healthcare systems, AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, advised it would no longer be conducting nonemergency surgeries in order to free up resources for Covid-19 patients.
Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld on Saturday became the latest theme park resorts to again ask visitors to wear masks indoors, Universal also ordering employees to wear face coverings to protect against Covid-19.
All workers at Universal’s Florida park are required to wear masks while indoors and to practice social distancing. The home to Harry Potter and Despicable Me rides also asked visitors to follow federal and local health guidelines by voluntarily wearing face coverings indoors.
“The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority,” Universal said.
SeaWorld posted on its website that it was recommending visitors wear face coverings while indoors. Crosstown rival Walt Disney World started requiring employees and guests older than two to wear masks on Friday, but it also went a step further. The Walt Disney Company said in a statement that it will be requiring all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the US who work on site to be fully vaccinated.
Disney employees who aren’t already vaccinated will have 60 days to do so and those still working from home will need to show proof of vaccination before returning. Disney said it was discussing the vaccine requirements with the union, and added that all new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before starting work at the company.