Parts of Florida seeing people under 35 testing positive for coronavirus at higher rate

In parts of Florida, people under 35 are testing positive at a higher rate since the coronavirus pandemic began, contributing to a surge in cases, officials said Wednesday.

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In St. Petersburg, three popular bars closed after employees tested positive.

“This is happening statewide. Ideally, we would have leadership from the top and this would be a statewide decision,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said, adding that Gov. Ron DeSantis has encouraged people to use masks but not mandated them.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said the county’s cases initially were in assisted living residences and nursing homes but now have shifted to younger people. He said 25 percent of the cases are in the African-American community.

Welch and Kriseman, both Democrats, blamed Republicans DeSantis and President Trump.

With cases still rising in some U.S. states, local officials have balked at requiring people to wear masks.

In the United States, which has more reported cases and deaths than anywhere else, local authorities are wrestling with balancing demands for constitutional rights and personal freedom with warnings from health officials that being lax will have deadly consequences.

At least 16 customers have tested positive for the coronavirus after spending a night out at a Florida bar earlier this month, which also saw seven employees infected with the virus, according to multiple reports.

Erika Crisp, 40, said she, along with 15 other friends went to Lynch's Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach on June 6 after months of social distancing and “doing everything the right way.”

“And then the first night we go out, Murphy’s Law, I guess,” Crisp said, according to Jacksonville's WJXT. “The only thing we have in common is that one night at that one bar.”

Bars were allowed to reopen on June 5 after Florida closed nonessential businesses in April amid the pandemic. Keith Doherty, the general manager of Lynch's, voluntarily shut down last weekend for a deep cleaning after learning customers had tested positive, which he said was the "right thing to do," the station reported.

He added that 49 employees at the pub were tested for the virus, with seven of them coming back positive.

DeSantis said he has no intention of closing Florida’s economy again despite the new cases, saying many of those getting sick are young and thus unlikely to suffer serious illness or death.

DeSantis said much of the two-week spike in confirmed infections that pushed the daily total past 2,700 on Tuesday can be traced to farm workers or businesses where a few positive cases led to widespread testing that uncovered high percentages of asymptomatic or barely symptomatic cases.

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Since the virus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, there have been more than 8.1 million confirmed cases and at least 443,000 deaths, according Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll is much higher. The U.S. has the most infections and deaths in the world, with a toll that neared 117,000 on Wednesday.

European nations, which embarked on a wide-scale reopening this week, watched with trepidation as the Americas struggled with the pandemic and new outbreaks were reported in Asia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.