Nearly 51,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Florida over 3-day period

The state of Florida reported 50,997 new COVID-19 cases July 31-August 2 -- with 16,998 Saturday, 16,998 Sunday, 17,001 cases Monday -- according to data posted Tuesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state was responsible for about 21% of the newly reported cases nationwide during that span.

Florida also reported 100 COVID-19 deaths during the three days, making the state responsible for about 11% of the 906 deaths reported nationwide. In all, 39,179 Florida residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic started in early 2020. The state has had more than 2.64 million confirmed cases.

There have been 123,400 new COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days in Florida, according to the CDC.

Florida leads the nation in the percentage of inpatient hospital beds occupied by people with COVID-19, according to data posted Tuesday by the federal government. As of Monday, 11,863 inpatient beds in Florida were being used by COVID-19 patients, about 22% of all inpatient beds in the state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data show. No other state had as high of a utilization rate.

MORE: Florida's COVID-19 hospitalizations reach all-time high of 11,515 patients

The federal data also show that about 86% of the 6,572 intensive-care unit beds in Florida were occupied. About 38% of the filled ICU beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Florida has been hit hard in recent weeks by a surge caused by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. The variant has particularly posed a threat to people who are unvaccinated.

A Florida Hospital Association poll of hospitals indicated 60% expect to have staffing shortages in the next week. Additionally, 23% reported that they will have to expand their patient care areas in the next week into parts of their facilities not currently used for care.

COVID-19 case chart August 3, 2021 (CDC)

Hospitals across the state have been forced to cancel non-emergency surgical procedures, and some facilities have limited visitation as the numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have increased.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday downplayed the hospitalization statistics, saying the news media was hyping the story.

MORE: Two Florida school districts drop mask mandates after DeSantis threatened to withhold funding

"Obviously, the media is hysteria. You try to fearmonger, you try to do this stuff," DeSantis said. "And when they talk about hospitalizations, our hospitals are open for business."

DeSantis defended his administration’s policy decisions during the pandemic, from banning mask mandates to directing vaccines to seniors over front-line workers.

"At the end of the day, would I rather have 5,000 cases amongst 20-year-olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger, because of the effect that it has," DeSantis said. "I think protecting the vulnerable has been the right way to go."

RELATED: Florida pediatric COVID cases continue to rise ahead of first day of school

During the early days of vaccine availability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that front-line workers who have exposure to the public --- such as grocery-store workers, teachers and police officers --- be a priority for getting shots, along with residents and staff members at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

But DeSantis ignored the recommendations and issued an executive order directing that vaccines be administered to residents ages 65 or older.

"We think doing the seniors first was the right thing to do," DeSantis said at a press availability Tuesday, adding, "even amidst a lot of positive tests, you still see much less mortality than you did year over year, so that’s important."

The governor said that while the number of overall infections has increased, the percentage of seniors and people living in nursing homes who have died from COVID-19 has decreased.

But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has called out DeSantis for his policies, saying that the governor, who has touted "Freedom over Faucism," is more interested in a 2024 presidential bid than curbing the spread of the virus. DeSantis and other Republicans have targeted Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for criticism during the pandemic.

DeSantis on Tuesday reiterated that he will not order shutdowns to try to stop the spread of the virus.

"We are having schools open. We are protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We are protecting peoples’ small businesses," DeSantis said. "These interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic, not just in the United States, but abroad. They have not stopped the spread, And particularly with delta that is even more transmissible. It if didn’t stop it before, it definitely ain’t going to stop it now. I think it’s very important we understand that."