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FL Breaks Record With 21,000 New Cases 08/01 09:42


   ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- 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 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 U.S. as the highly contagious delta 
variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

   Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory 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. DeSantis on Friday 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 
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. The figures show how 
quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State: only a day 
earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases. The previous peak in Florida 
had been 19,334 cases reported on Jan. 7, before the availability of 
vaccinations became widespread.

   The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 
39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state's 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 Friday that statewide COVID-19 
hospitalizations are nearing last year's peak, and one of the state's largest 
health care systems, AdventHealth's Central Florida Division, this week 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 in Florida to again ask visitors to wear masks indoors, with 
Universal also ordering its employees to wear face coverings to protect against 
COVID-19, which has been surging across the state.

   All workers at Universal's Florida park on Saturday started being required 
to wear masks while indoors as the employees returned to practicing 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 in a statement.

   Health officials on Friday announced that coronavirus cases in Florida had 
jumped 50% over the past week with COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state 
nearing last year's peak.

   SeaWorld on Saturday posted on its website that it was recommending that 
visitors follow recently updated federal recommendations and wear face 
coverings while indoors.

   The change in policy this week at the theme park resorts came after the U.S. 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone wear masks 
indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

   Crosstown rival Walt Disney World started requiring employees and guests 
older than 2 to wear masks on Friday, but it also went a step further. The Walt 
Disney Co. said in a statement that it will be requiring all salaried and 
non-union hourly employees in the U.S. 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.

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