Southwest Florida COVID-19 cases climb as first vaccines reach coastal hospitals

Manatee County on Tuesday became the third in Southwest Florida to surpass 20,000 reported cases of COVID-19. More than 1 in 20 residents in the county have been infected at some point, starting with Florida’s first coronavirus case back in March.

The 10-county region as a whole has seen more than 116,000 diagnoses, and nearly 2,400 resident deaths.

But health officials on Tuesday focused on more promising news, as the first shipments of vaccines arrived at suburban hospitals along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The Manatee County Public Safety Department announced it had set up its first vaccination “pod,” a pop-up station where first responders will be among the first to be inoculated beginning Tuesday.

In neighboring Sarasota County, officials at Sarasota Memorial Hospital announced the first 9,600 doses of Moderna’s vaccine had arrived, and the hospital began vaccinating health care workers midday.

Sarasota County has seen fewer infections than Manatee County (17,110 compared to 20,623) but more deaths (468 to 405).

The lead county in region, though, remains the most populous, Lee County. There have been 37,507 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 there, with 643 deaths. The county saw Florida’s first COVID-19 death, a woman who died

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