Two Florida deputies die after contracting coronavirus

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala, 38, (left) and Broward Sheriff's Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, both died from COVID-19, officials announced Saturday.(PBSO/BSO handouts)
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Two Florida law enforcement officers have died from coronavirus as the number of positive cases in the state topped 11,500, officials said Saturday.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala, 38, died Saturday. He had underlying health issues, the department said in a news release. He worked at the department for 14 years and was assigned to its corrections division.

The department didn’t release details about when or how Ayala contracted the disease.

Earlier Saturday, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony announced that Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, had died from the disease. Bennett, who died Friday night, was a 12-year veteran of the agency.

The sheriff said Bennett had worked most recently as a resource officer at Deerfield Beach Elementary School. Bennett called in sick March 23, checked into the hospital that same day and tested positive for coronavirus March 27.

It's unclear exactly where or when Bennett contracted the infection, Tony said.

“He was on duty when he reported it so as far as I’m concerned this is an ‘in the line of duty’ death,” Tony said during a news conference.

Bennett was one of 21 deputies, firefighters and civilian employees of the Broward Sheriff's Office who have tested positive for coronavirus, Tony added. Most are self-isolated at home.

The law enforcement deaths come as the total number of positive coronavirus cases topped 11,500 in Florida with at least 195 deaths as of Saturday evening, according to statistics released by the Florida Department of Health.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death. The vast majority of people recover, but a surge of cases needing hospital support could overwhelm the health care system’s capacity.