Newly reopened South Florida seen as an emerging coronavirus hot spot


WASHINGTON — Federal officials responding to the coronavirus pandemic are concerned about the rapidly rising number of cases in Palm Beach County, Fla., according to an internal Trump administration document reviewed by Yahoo News.

The document, a May 13 daily interagency update on the nation’s coronavirus response circulated by the Department of Homeland Security, notes new areas of concern for coronavirus. It was provided to Yahoo News by one of its recipients under the condition that that recipient not be identified.

“As most states have begun phased re-opening, several COVID-19 hot spots continue to emerge,” the notice says. Three counties are then listed: Palm Beach; San Bernardino County, Calif.; and Marshall County, Ala.

The Gardens Mall food court
The Gardens Mall food court opened Friday morning for the first time in nearly two months. (Damon Higgins/Palm Beach Post via Zuma Wire)

“Palm Beach County, FL reported a 71% increase in new cases the last 7 days compared to the previous 7 days,” the document explains. “The state authorized Palm Beach County to begin Phase 1 of reopening on 11 May, which includes the reopening of barbershops, salons, restaurants, and other businesses.”

President Trump recently changed his primary residence from Manhattan to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort, which is located in Palm Beach County.

The information in the document is attributed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was collected on May 12, which means cases were rising even before the county began to reopen on May 11. Other parts of the state had begun to reopen earlier, on May 4.

Neither FEMA nor the DHS responded immediately to a request for comment.

The DHS document says that San Bernardino County in California “reported an increase of 782 cases in the last 7 days, nearly doubling new cases reported in the previous 7 days. County officials recently began Phase II of the county’s reopening plan, lifting requirements for mask use on 8 May.”

Marshall County, Ala., the document says, “reported 217 cases in the last 7 days, a 517% increase over the previous 7 days. Marshall County is home to several poultry plants and the meat packing industry accounts for 8% of the county’s employment. On 11 May, additional businesses were reopened.”

Public health officials have warned that lifting stay-at-home orders would lead to more infections and, inevitably, more deaths. Some governors have either discounted or dismissed such warnings, as has President Trump.

Chad Dean cuts the hair of Dekota Isdell
Ascend the Trend Barbershop in Palm Beach is open for business, May 11, 2020. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Encompassing the beachfront and inland communities north of Miami, Palm Beach County has a population density about four times that of Marshall County, which is in the northeastern corner of Alabama, and seven times that of San Bernardino County, which encompasses the desert region east of Los Angeles. Population density is thought to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the lung disease known as COVID-19. That disease has killed more than 87,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The coronavirus also tends to strike older people. The average age of a Palm Beach County resident is 45 years old, whereas the average Marshall County resident is 39 years old and the San Bernardino County resident is only 33 years old.

Palm Beach is home to many retirement communities, a fact that worries health officials. The county has recorded 263 coronavirus deaths, three more than the entirety of South Korea, which recorded its first coronavirus case on the same late January day as the United States.

Neither the governor’s press secretary nor county officials responded on late Friday afternoon to Yahoo News requests for comment.

Florida was one of the first states to reopen, at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had also been slow to close his state, effectively waiting for permission from Trump to do so. DeSantis’s faltering and confusing response to the coronavirus made him among the nation’s least popular governors, according to a national survey conducted in April.

In recent days, however, DeSantis has been celebrated by some for Florida’s seeming success in battling the coronavirus. But a good part of that success appears to have come from shelter-in-place orders by mayors who acted ahead of DeSantis.

Allegations have also surfaced that the state has deliberately underreported its coronavirus numbers.

Additional reporting by Jana Winter.


Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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